A Homily for 16 Trinity
Do you believe this?
“Everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this” (Jn. 11:26) [16th Sunday after Trinity, 6 October 2019, All Saints, Prescott, AZ]
People are sometimes asked: What was the happiest day of your life? In most cases they remember Graduation, Marriage, the birth of children, or Retirement from work. Martha and Mary in today’s Gospel probably added another day to this list, and that day would outdistance any other. At first, we see them in deep sorrow and desperation as St. John describes their world with one simple sentence: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (Jn. 11:21) In their grief, Jesus had let them down… He had come too late to be of help… and their brother had now been dead four days. But Jesus did come, and He did restore their future in a most spectacular way: He raised Lazarus from the grave and returned him to life! Where they had seen only fear and loneliness, they now saw hope and reassurance. Their world had not come to an end, and they would remember this day forever.
St. John, however, provides us with a glimpse of something more: The immensity of Christ’s compassion and power. Just think: Jesus is able to overcome an obstacle as significant as death itself. His authority and power have no limits... and neither does His compassion. Compassion is not the same as sympathy. While sympathy shares our feelings with someone, compassion adds a desire to do something positive about the distress of the other person. In this case, Christ relieved Martha’s and Mary’s sorrow as he did something about their distress and hopelessness.
In effect, He did much more than return life to Lazarus: He showed us that He has human feelings and emotions… and that He will act on them. He showed us that He feels sorrow, and pain, and empathy. He showed us that He is moved by tragedy in our lives, and that He responds to our suffering in a most human fashion.
He also shows us that He is God by giving unbelievable joy to two grieving sisters... by performing a miracle... by restoring life! Jesus reveals the extent of His authority and power by confronting death head-on… just because He commands that it should be so.
Besides overcoming physical death, Christ has the power to overcome the spiritual death of our soul. Saving us from eternal damnation is the ultimate goal of His coming to earth and assuming our humanity. Jesus does not say: “My deepest sympathies are with you. I am so sorry you have sinned and are no longer eligible for eternal life.” Instead, He does something about our plight… He forgives us and restores us to spiritual life and promises us: “Come, all you that labor and are heavy laden and I will refresh you.”(Mat 11:28)
This promised refreshment is meant for our anxious spirit, our troubled heart and our distressed soul. He understands our human tendency towards failing… He hears our deep remorse when we ask forgiveness… and He responds with compassion, authority and power by washing our souls clean and blotting out our transgressions. Only God can do that.
When Martha met Jesus, she first spoke with reproach in her voice. “If you had been here,” she said, “my brother would not have died.” In other words: When you got our message that Lazarus was ill, why didn’t you come immediately? Where were you when we needed you most? Had you come immediately, you could have healed our brother, because you could not possibly have resisted the appeals of two anxious sisters. Instead of healing Lazarus, Jesus promised something much more dramatic: “Your brother will live,” He said, and then He asked her: “Do you believe this?” (Jn. 11:26) He asked her for a sign of unconditional faith!
We do the same when we approach Christ in the act of contrition and ask Him to restore our spiritual lives. We affirm