Friday, April 28, 2017

Homily for 28 April 2017

April 28, 2017

In the history of the Church, there are instances of what we call Eucharistic Miracles, where the host becomes human flesh and blood.  And that's confirmed by scientists looking under the microscope.  Of course, this can be a big boost for people to have faith in what Jesus says: This is my Body, this is my Blood.

It's like the multiplication of the loaves and fish.  It was a big help for people to see with their own eyes what Jesus could do; they could see that their faith in him wasn't wasted.  And so, these Eucharistic Miracles are a great blessing from God.

At the same time, however, the point of these miracles is to move us toward greater faith, toward believing without necessarily seeing.  When you think about it, every time we come to Mass, we're given a test (and we know that Jesus tests his followers).  We see the Body and Blood of Christ, but it looks and tastes like bread and wine.  And there's the test: Are we going to trust our own senses and say, "That's bread and wine," or are we going to trust the Lord and say, "That's his Body and Blood"?

When we go to a funeral and look in the casket, are we going to trust our senses and say, "This person is dead," or will we trust the Lord and say, "This person is very much alive"?  When bad things happen in life, will we trust our own take on the situation and say, "God has abandoned us," or will we trust that the Lord is always with us, as he said he is? 

It's good to see with our own eyes the wonders of God.  It's a boost to our faith.  The challenge is to let them be just that--a boost to our faith, so that we can say, "I don't see, but I still believe."

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Homily for 27 April 2017

27 April 2017
(School Mass)

In the psalm today, there’s kind of a strange sentence.  It says, “Many are the troubles of the just man.”  And that’s a little strange because usually if we behave well, things are easier, not harder.  You know, if you listen to your parents, or you’re just nice to your brothers and sisters, life is usually easier.  But the psalm says just the opposite: Even if we’re listening to God and doing our best to love him and our neighbors, life will still be hard.

But, you know, the Scripture is right.  And that’s because being a good disciple of Jesus is not always the popular thing to do; sometimes it means changing our habits and our behaviors.  And that’s hard—sometimes. 

For example, if you notice one of your classmates is doing something wrong, it takes courage to say something.  And that’s the right thing to do.  But it’s also a hard thing to do because you don’t want to lose your friend.  Or what if you don’t help out around the house with chores—but you’re supposed to.  Well, it’s a good thing to change that habit, but it can also be hard to do that.

It’s a great thing to be friend of God and to do what is good and just.  But that doesn’t always mean it’s going to be easy.  And that’s where the rest of the psalm comes in.  We sang, “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.”  And that’s right.  If we’re having a tough time trying to do the right thing, all we have to do is pray to Jesus for help, and he’ll help us.

The psalm today says that, “Many are the troubles of the just man.”  But that’s okay.  It’s good to do what’s right.  And when it’s hard, we have the Risen Jesus to help us.  That’s the good news today: Jesus is always there to help us do what’s right.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Homily for 26 April 2017

26 April 2017

People react differently when they hear it’s going to rain (or snow, or whatever).  Some people love the rain; other people don’t care for it.  Kids generally love the snow, but the elderly—not so much.  It’s the same weather that comes down on us, but we can approach it in some pretty different ways.

And the same can go for God as well.  Now, in the gospel today, John reminds us that God loves the world; he didn’t send his Son to condemn us, but to raise us up.  He came “so that we might have life, life in abundance.”  But, you know, sometimes that’s a hard sell for people.  In some ways, God is like the rain or the snow.  Some people love God; others have a take-it-or-leave-it attitude; and others really don’t like God at all.  And that’s for any number of reasons.

One reason is that the “love” they’ve experienced from Christians has been anything but loving or merciful.  I suppose it’s like trying to convince somebody who’s broken a hip slipping on the ice that ice skating is fun.  And so, it’s important for us to be steadfast not only in our faith, but also in the way we share the Lord with others. 

We heard in the Acts of the Apostles how they were imprisoned unjustly.  But when they got out, they didn’t take revenge; they just kept on preaching the good news of the mercy of God.  They were faithful to God—not only on a personal level, but also in the way they presented God to others, in their words and their actions.  And that really made all the difference.

Like the Apostles, we also have the power to shape how others react to God.  And that power lies in how we are the face, the hands, and the voice of God to those around us.

Homily for 25 April 2017

25 April 2017

Feast of St. Mark the Evangelist

In the garden of Gethsemane, as Jesus was being arrested, St. Mark tells us that “a young man followed [Jesus] wearing nothing but a linen cloth about his body.  They seized him, but he left the cloth behind and ran off naked” [Mk 14:51].  And there’s general agreement among Scripture scholars that the young man is Mark himself.

Now, Mark ended up traveling with St. Paul on his missionary journeys, and then became a disciple of St. Peter, and eventually spread the Gospel message to Egypt, where he founded the first Christian Church in Alexandria.  It was also there that he was martyred by having a rope tied around his neck and being dragged through the city streets until he was dead.

St. Mark had made a significant change in his life.  The first time he was seized for being a disciple of Jesus, he ran away in fear.  But the last time he was seized, he let it happen out of love for Jesus and the Gospel.  And it’s that kind of witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus that kept the flame of faith alive in people’s hearts for generations upon generations.

Even today, if someone were to ask us why we have faith, a solid answer is: Because of all those early Christians, like St. Mark, who reoriented their whole lives around Christ and were not afraid to die in order to share the good news.  We have faith because they thought Jesus’ message of hope and love was important enough to die for.

Thanks be to God for those early Christians whose preaching still brings people to faith, even today.  Thanks be to God for their words, their actions, their devotion to the Crucified and Risen Lord.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Homily for 23 April 2017

23 April 2017
2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy)

Jesus walked through the door and said to his disciples, “Peace be with you.”  That was the first gift of God after the Resurrection: the gift of peace.  And it was a much appreciated gift.  After all, the disciples had been hiding out together in fear.  And so, it was a welcome relief not only to see Jesus arisen from the dead, but also to hear his word of reassurance: “Peace be with you.”

But that peace wouldn’t have come to them if Jesus hadn’t walked through the door first.  Before Jesus could offer them peace, he had to have mercy on them.  He had to acknowledge that they were afraid; that they were locked up behind that door, and that they needed help.  Jesus saw all that; he knew their situation and he had pity for them.  That’s why he came through the door in the first place—because he took pity on them; he wanted to lift them up and to be okay.

And divine mercy takes a lot of different forms.  We could talk about forgiveness as a type of mercy.  Compassion and empathy are forms of divine mercy; kindness and love, encouragement and patience.  Fidelity is a big one, too.  We ask God to have mercy on us—to remember the covenant he made with us (even though we forget about it every now and then).  We ask him to be faithful, to be the strong one in this partnership, especially when we are fickle and weak.

Divine mercy takes a lot of different forms.  And that’s probably why it’s hard to pin down exactly what it is we’re asking for when we pray, “Lord, have mercy on us.”  Maybe for some people they’re aware of sins that need forgiveness, and so they pray, “Lord, have mercy on us—Lord, forgive me.”  While others are perhaps afraid or overly anxious, and so they pray, “Lord, have mercy on us—Lord, give me peace of mind.”  Mercy isn’t one thing; it’s many things. 

In the century behind Jesus was born, the ancient Athenians worshipped a goddess named Eleos [eh-LAY-ohs].  But Eleos was not like Zeus or Poseidon, or Athena or Apollo.  Those other gods and goddesses had a more definite “look” to them.  For instance, they could look at an image of Zeus and say, “That’s Zeus.”  They could look at a figure of Athena and say, “That’s Athena.”  But they generally couldn’t do that with Eleos.

Eleos didn’t have a particular “look” to her.  She took many different forms.  Eleos wasn’t so much a statue to be worshipped but, rather, a phenomenon to be experienced.  It’s hard to carve a statue of “peace.”  It’s hard to paint a picture of “forgiveness.”  It’s difficult to make an image of “having a conscience.”  They’re all things we humans experience; and they’re all different things.  And, yet, they’re all related to the one idea of mercy.

The one aspect of the goddess Eleos which is constant in images of her is that her clothing is dark, earthy blue color.  It’s a somber color; one that gets at the depth of what divine mercy is all about.  Maybe there’s a connection there between that and the blue cloth that covered the Ark of Covenant in the Old Testament.  Maybe there’s a connection with Mary as the Mother of Mercy, our Blessed Mother clothed in a blue mantle.  Maybe there’s a connection with Advent and Lent, and those dark blue, dark violet colors we see at church; after all, those are seasons when we focus a lot of asking God for mercy.

One connection is for sure, and that is we get the word eleison from Eleos.  Every Lent we sing, “Kyrie, eleison—Lord, have mercy.  In whatever way we need your help and support, Lord, have mercy on us.  Kyrie, eleison.”  And whenever we’re aware of having received that mercy, it’s a wonderful thing.  The disciples were overjoyed when Jesus had pity on them, walked through the door, and said, “Peace be with you.”  It’s just what they needed, in that situation, at that time.

But, at the same time, there are a couple of problems with divine mercy.  First, we have to be humble enough to realize that we need God’s help.  And, second, we can’t make God be merciful in the way we want him to be merciful; we have to accept his mercy in whatever form it comes to us.

You know, our God wears many hats.  He’s the Creator, the Redeemer, the Sanctifier.  He’s also the Divine Physician, Healer, and Companion to all.  Our God is a helpful God, a generous God, a God with a Sacred and Pure Heart, a God who is the Good Shepherd and wants his people “to have life, life in abundance.”  In other words, our God is a merciful God, a loving God, a God of infinite pity and compassion.

But when pride gets in the way, who needs God?  When “I can take care of myself,” who needs God?  When I’m spiritually sick and running a fever (but I won’t admit it), who needs God . . . at least, a God of mercy?  In order to benefit from divine mercy, there has to be the admission that “I do need God’s mercy.  I do need God’s help and encouragement.  And, yes, sometimes I even need God’s finger pointing at me, and maybe even a good spanking.  I need God’s mercy, I need his help so I can have life, life in abundance, today and always.” It takes humility, simple humility (and a little bit of gratitude, too).

The other difficulty with divine mercy is, of course, we have to let God do his merciful thing in whatever way he wants to do it.  When I was in seminary, studying for the priesthood, I prayed a lot that God would make it crystal clear to me: Should I be a priest, or shouldn’t I?  I was asking God to have pity on me, to be merciful and just tell me what to do.  But he wouldn’t.  So I’d pray some more, and he still wouldn’t tell me.  And, after several years of this, I realized one day that he wasn’t going to tell me.  That’s how God chose to be merciful to me—he made it hard for me.

But that’s exactly what I needed.  When God remained mercifully silent, it was then that I realized the vocation to priesthood (or any vocation) is a two-way street.  God had put it into my head to think about priesthood.  But the response had to come from me.  After all, we’re not God’s puppets; we’re his disciples and his friends.  Thanks to God’s mercy, he forced me take ownership of my vocation, to be intentional about it, and to offer it back as a gift from me to him.

And that’s certainly a challenge whenever we’re asking for God’s help.  It may not come in the time or in the way we want it to.  You know, we might ask for peace of mind because of some situation in life, but God might be saying, “You can have peace, but not by avoiding the situation you’re trying to avoid.”  In that case, divine mercy would probably take the form of companionship and wisdom to get through the tough times, and not necessarily the form of a shield to avoid difficulties.  God’s mercy and help, God’s pity may not come in the time or in the way we want it to.

And this is where Jesus’ words to Thomas ring in our ears: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”  In other words, blessed are those who keep faith in God—even when they don’t see divine mercy at work in the way we expect it to.

Divine mercy is a tremendous gift from our God.  Jesus had pity on his disciples; he walked through the door and said, “Peace be with you.”  Peace was his gift to them—that day.  As we know, they all had a tough life following Jesus.  But God’s mercy carried them through both the good times and the not-so-good times.  Even when they felt God was absent from them—like Jesus on the Cross when he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”—even when they couldn’t see God’s mercy at work around them, they remained faithful.

We pray all the time, “Kyrie, eleison; Lord, have mercy.”  And he does, whether or not we realize it.  He has mercy on us, most especially here at the Altar.  If we ever need a reminder of how much our God desires to lift us up and bring us to a better place, we need only remember the sacrifice of the Eucharist.  Through his Body and Blood, Jesus comes through the door of our hearts, and he offers us . . . mercy, peace, forgiveness, healing, companionship, strength, and whatever else we need. 

“Peace be with you,” he says to us through his Body and Blood, “Peace be with you.”  What’s left but to be glad of heart, and to say a prayer of thanks that Mercy has visited us. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Homily for 13 April 2017

13 Apr 2017

Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper

Tonight begins the holiest time of year for Christians.  For three whole days we pray and celebrate and pray some more.  It is the Holy Triduum.  And our focus during these days is on those events—which God did—that won for us our salvation; those events in history that secured for us our freedom as sons and daughters of almighty God; those events which reopened the gates of paradise that had been closed by the sin of Adam and Eve.

In many ways, the Holy Triduum is like our national holidays: the 4th of July, or Memorial Day, or Veterans Days.  We commemorate those events which have made the country what it is: the land of the free and the home of the brave.  And during this most holy time of the year, we disciples of Jesus Christ commemorate the works of God which have made us who we are: the Church, the light of the world, a redeemed and restored people.

And this idea of “commemoration” comes through quite a bit in Scripture tonight.  As we heard, God spoke to Moses and Aaron in Egypt.  But what he gave to them was instructions for a commemorative ritual—the ritual celebration of Passover.  The celebration was to be a particular day of the month, and the sacrifice was to be a pure and unblemished lamb, and then the blood was to be spread on the door lintels of the houses of the faithful.

God gave them a set of ritual instructions to follow; the ritual was to commemorate the Passover.  But, you know, at the time, the Passover hadn’t even happened yet.  It sounds a bit like putting the cart before the horse.  How can you commemorate something that hasn’t even happened yet?  And the answer is that the ritual, the commemoration, is itself part of the event to come. 

By participating in the ritual, the event it celebrates becomes present and real—not all at once, but a little at a time.  This is what St. Paul gets at in his letter to the Corinthians when he writes, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”  Now, when St. Paul wrote that, of course Jesus had already died, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. 

When we celebrate the ritual of the Mass, we don’t pretend that Jesus isn’t risen.  Instead, the ritual of the Mass, the ritual of the Eucharist is about commemorating our risen life in Christ.  And that’s an event which hasn’t happened yet—entirely.  By participating in the ritual of the Mass, the event it celebrates becomes present and real—not all at once, but a little at a time.  Whenever we share in Christ’s Body and Blood at the altar, we share that much more in his risen and divine life. 

God gave Moses and Aaron the Passover ritual before they’d even left Egypt.  But he gave the ritual to them as a foreshadow and as an entryway into the event of the Passover.  And this is what we have here in the Mass; it’s what we have throughout these next three days.  Through these rituals we share in, we have both a foreshadow and an entryway into those works of God which raise us up; those works of God that give us hope and life, fulfillment and joy of heart.

Whether it’s the ritual of listening to the words of Scripture, or the ritual of the Washing of Feet in just a few minutes, or the ritual of the Eucharist, or the ritual of processions with incense and candles and singing, or the ritual of greeting one another in the name of Christ, or the ritual of the Sign of Peace—all these rituals we Catholics have are doorways into the thing, into the event, we’re commemorating.  The rituals make it present and real. 

After Jesus had washed the Apostles’ feet, he said, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”  That sounds a lot like God giving those ritual instructions to Moses and Aaron: I have given you instructions on what to do, now go and do it.  Of course, the hard part with ritual is to not simply go through the motions, but to actually do the ritual. 

Now, the idea of sacrifice is pretty central to the rituals that have been handed on to us.  And it’s a central theme of the Holy Triduum.  Sacrifice isn’t necessarily about giving something up; instead, it’s about participating in something bigger than ourselves.  And that “something bigger” we’re interested in is all those events God has done (and is doing) to raise us up; all those saving acts of God that help us fulfill our potential as his sons and daughters. 

When Jesus died on the Cross, he said, “It is finished.”  In other words, the purpose of his being born at Christmas was fulfilled on the Cross.  The main “ritual” Jesus had to participate in was the sad human ritual of crucifying criminals and blasphemers.  Through that ritual, he participated in something bigger than himself: he loved his enemies, forgave them, and did not lose hope in God the Father.  Because of that, he fulfilled his purpose; he opened the gates of paradise to those who follow his example.

It’s why martyrdom was so important in the early Church.  Being martyred for love of God became almost a ritual, a commemoration of the redemption won on the Cross.  Thankfully, we don’t have to go through the ritual of crucifixion.  Instead, the rituals we’re given to participate in involve: Scripture, the Eucharist, washing feet, offering forgiveness and mercy, being truthful, loving one’s enemies, using our minds and expanding our knowledge.   And when we actually participate in them we become holier; we become more like the God in whose image we’re made.

And all these rituals—all these saving acts of God—are brought together over these next three days: the Eucharist, Baptism, Confirmation, Anointing, prayers, processions, and so on.  As we go forward now into the ritual of the Washing of the Feet, there aren’t any words that go with it.  We simply have the ritual of washing feet; the ritual of one person cleansing another.  As we do this ritual, I would encourage you to reread the Gospel, and to put words and action together.

Perhaps you’ll hear Jesus say: “Do you realize what I have done for you?  Do you realize what I have done for you?  Let me cleanse you, and so raise you up.” 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Homily for 12 Apr 2017

12 Apr 2017

Sometimes you just want somebody to know what you’re feeling, without having to explain it all.  And that’s who we have in our Lord Jesus.  From the prophet Isaiah we hear, “The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.”  And we hear those words quite naturally on the lips on Jesus.

Jesus is well-trained in being able to comfort the weary because, of course, he himself suffered quite a bit.  Jesus has been the suffering servant.  And so, even before we have a chance to express our troubles to him, he already knows what we feel.  We don’t have to say anything to him.  We just have to feel our grief, knowing that the Lord grieves with us.

And, really, that’s a blessing of the Incarnation, and a blessing of the Lord’s suffering.  Through Jesus’ suffering, he learned to suffer with us sinners.  But he did that so he could speak (from his own experience) “a word that will rouse” us; a word of hope—that, in the end, there is no suffering, just heaven.

The Lord suffered and died, and rose again to show us that, in the end, the sun always rises.  No matter how dark the clouds of life may get, there’s always the promise of a new day.  And that’s from somebody who’s “been there, done that:” the Lord Jesus.     

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Homily for 7 Apr 2017

7 Apr 2017

Some people you just can’t argue with.  In the gospel, Jesus’ adversaries really didn’t have any interest in listening to him.  They just wanted him out of the picture.  Jesus gave them the most down-to-earth, truthful and logical arguments, but they didn’t really care.  They weren’t looking to be persuaded, certainly not by someone they despised. 

And, of course, we run into those kinds of people ourselves.  (Sometimes, we might even be those people.)  You know, it could be a family member or a friend who’s just dead set against the Catholic faith, in spite of your example, your encouragement, and so on.  Maybe it’s a neighbor who feels so passionately about something, that they stop thinking and operate purely on emotions.  Some people you just can’t argue with.

Now, Jesus didn’t stop what he was doing—sort of.  He didn’t change his tune, and he didn’t compromise on the facts in order to keep others on his side.  He remained firm and truthful.  But, at the same time, we know he left the area and “went back across the Jordan.”  The hearts of the people were so hardened against him, that it made little sense for him to stay and argue.  Jesus walked away.

But, as we know, he also came back.  He came back to make his point abundantly clear on the cross.  And there Jesus is teaching us something.  We know that there are people you just can’t argue with.  So what else can you do sometimes but simply . . . walk away—not to stay away, but to come back from a different angle.

It’s been said that the best way to disarm your enemies is to become their friend.  Maybe that’s why Jesus said to love our enemies.  Words failed to change the hearts of Jesus’ adversaries, but his show of love on the cross succeeded.  Some people you just can’t argue with, and that’s the way it is.  But we don’t give up; we just stop preaching to them in words, and start preaching God’s love to them by our actions.  

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Homily for 6 Apr 2017

6 Apr 2017

(School Mass)

There once was a little child who was nine years old; actually, she was nine years, eleven months and twenty nine days old.  She was about to turn ten years old, and she could hardly sleep the night before the party.  There was going to be cake and decorations and friends and lots and lots of presents.  She was especially hoping to get a particular toy she really, really wanted.

So the next day the party happened.  There were lots of people there.  The cake was all eaten up before they finished singing Happy Birthday.  They played games and then, finally, she was able to open all her presents.  She torn into each one, hoping to see that special toy she wanted.  It wasn’t in the first package.  It wasn’t in the second package.

At long last, she opened the last package—and the toy wasn’t in there either.  While all her friends and family were having a wonderful time, she just sat there—without the toy she was hoping to get.

It’s too bad she was so focused on getting that one toy, not only because she didn’t get the toy, but because she missed the party.  I mean, she was there, but she didn’t even enjoy herself.  She couldn’t even see all the gifts around her: the ones that came in packages, of course, but also the food, her friends, and lots of people saying Happy Birthday to her.

She couldn’t enjoy the party because she was expecting one thing and got something else.  And that’s what happened with “the Jews.”  They were expecting the Messiah to be a certain kind of person, and all they got was Jesus.  And they were very disappointed, to say the least.  They were expecting one thing and all they got was Jesus—it’s too bad they couldn’t see the gift of God staring them in the face.

It’s good to have expectations, but God works in surprising ways.  And so, with God, we have to expect the unexpected.  And, I suppose, that’s a lesson from Scripture today: With God we have to expect the unexpected . . . so be sure to keep your eyes and your minds and hearts . . . open!

Homily for 5 Apr 2017

5 April 2017

“I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith” [2 Tim 4:7].  These words of St. Paul could easily have been said by the three young men thrown into the white-hot furnace.  In spite of King Nebuchadnezzar’s threats and the direness of the situation, they competed well and kept the faith.  They lived, and even converted the king in the end.

And the “competition” Paul speaks about is a reference to life in general.  We’re confronted all the time with things like temptation, or the truth of a matter, or the reality of a fallen world.  They’re like our competitors.  And the “competition” is in how we respond to them.  When temptation gains ground on us, what’s our response?  When we’re hit with the truth of something, what’s our response?  When we hear about tragedy on the news, what’s our response?  It’s a competition between all those things and how we respond.

Now the Jews in the gospel were confronted in a big way by the truth.  These particular Jews had begun to believe in Jesus.  But when Jesus pushed them to examine their way of life, they resisted him.  That was their response to the truth he brought.  They stumbled like a runner might stumble in a race.

And stumbling along our journey of faith isn’t necessarily a problem.  After all, stumbling itself can be part of the “competition.”  It’s all in how we respond to it; how we respond to the ups and downs of life.  Our hope is that, in the end, we can each say, “I have finished the race—I didn’t give up; I have kept the faith—I was faithful to the Spirit of Christ as much as I could be.”

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Homily for 4 Apr 2017

4 Apr 2017

The way of Jesus is not always an easy one.  Things like: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving all take a certain amount of discipline.  And discipline doesn’t always come easy.  Holding our tongue when we’d rather gossip can be difficult.  Loving our neighbor, when we’d rather not, is difficult.  And being honest with ourselves about our sins and failings can be downright painful.

Like the Israelites wandering in the desert, I suppose we could have a lot to complain about.  After all, following in the way of Jesus is not always an easy one.

But this is where the Cross comes in.  When we’re tempted to complain about the hardships of being a Christian, we look at the Cross.  And we’re reminded pretty quickly that we “have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood” [Hebrews 12:4].  In anyone had a justifiable right to complain about hardship in following God, it was Jesus.  But he didn’t complain.

Just like the serpent in the desert, the Cross is a pain in our side and—at the same time—the remedy for that pain.  When the difficulties of Christian living become a pain, it’s a healing thing to look upon the Cross and to realize: I don’t have much to complain about.  Actually, I have much to be thankful for.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Homily for 2 Apr 2017

2 Apr 2017
5th Sunday of Lent, Year A

Jesus wept.  He was deeply troubled, and wept for the dead.  Even the Jews who had come noticed and had pity.  “Look,” they said, “see how he loved Lazarus.”  And Jesus wept all the more for hearing that, because he wasn’t mourning for Lazarus at all; he was weeping for the dead—for Martha and Mary, and the Jews.

In the Gospel of John, there are miracles and signs—the raising of Lazarus being one of them.  And there are also the monologues, or speeches, of Jesus.  And these two things go together.  For each of the seven signs Jesus does, there’s an accompanying monologue.  And the monologue that goes with the raising of Lazarus is when Jesus talks about being the Good Shepherd.

He says, “I am the good shepherd, and I know [my sheep] and mine know me.  They will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.  All who came [before me] are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.  I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.  I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.  I am the good shepherd, and I know [my sheep] and mine know me.”

In other words, those who actually hear the voice of Jesus and trust him have life—life in abundance.  Those who don’t listen to him, don’t have life in them (or not as much as they could have).  Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd, and I know [my sheep] and [they] know me.”  The trouble is that some of Jesus’ closest friends didn’t really know him. 

Martha didn’t respond to the voice of the Good Shepherd.  Instead, she came running out to him before he ever called her.  And she was too convinced of her own understanding of things to really hear Jesus say, “I am the resurrection—I am.”  She only knew Jesus as a miracle-worker, as the Christ, as the anointed One of God.  But she didn’t know Jesus as God himself.  She didn’t know him as the Good Shepherd.  She was too busy running the show to have any room left in her for listening to Jesus.  And Jesus wept for her.

Now, Mary was a little different.  She came to Jesus only after she heard that he was calling for her.  She responded to the voice of the Good Shepherd and followed him.  The trouble was that she was influenced too much by the sympathy the Jews were showing her.  The “voice of strangers” won her over, and she stepped away from following Jesus.  And Jesus wept for her.

And, lastly, there was Lazarus, the dead man.  But Jesus says he’s only “asleep;” he’s only resting.  And, in fact, when Jesus says to him, “Lazarus, come out!” Lazarus comes out.  Lazarus—the apparently dead man—is the only one who’s actually listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd; he’s the only one at peace.  He’s the one enjoying the green pastures and the still waters of the Good Shepherd.  He’s the one not living in fear, because the Good Shepherd is with him, and he is with the Good Shepherd.

Jesus wept—but not for Lazarus.  He wept because his dear friends were “walking through the dark valley and the shadow of death,” and letting that experience distract them to the point that they were spiritually dead.

Jesus wept, but he was also perturbed by this.  In the ancient Greek, the word “enebree-máysato” means “to snort like an angry horse.”  When he saw Mary weeping along with the Jews who were weeping, it was like a punch in the stomach; he was deeply upset and angry—not out of a lack of compassion, but because he saw his friends being led astray—being led away from him and life, and going down the path of despair and death. 

In the Church, we oftentimes hear from grandparents and parents how “the kids don’t go to church anymore.  They say they don’t believe in God, or the Church, or anything else like that.”  And the people who say that are torn inside; they’re upset and even angry about that.  But mostly they’re brokenhearted, because they love their children and their grandchildren.  And they, too, like Jesus, weep.

Many people—young and old—are searching for something else.  They’re looking for happiness and vigorous living; they’re looking to feel good about themselves and about belonging to a community; they want excitement in their worship; they want the experience of being a Christian to be an endlessly joyful event.  And that’s an excellent and worthy kind of life to desire—it’s the life Jesus desires for us, after all. 

But that kind of life—from a Christian perspective—doesn’t happen outside of Christ.  It doesn’t happen by following some other shepherd (and the world is full of shepherds who entice us to go along with them, and to wander away from Jesus).  Again, as Jesus says, “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”  And the “pasture” is that place of happiness and vigorous living.

But, to some—to many, the pasture of the Good Shepherd looks a lot like Lazarus: bound and dead in his tomb.  But appearances can be deceiving.  Jesus said he’s only asleep, he’s only resting; he’s very much alive, listening to (and enjoying) the voice of the One who loves him.  Lazarus is very much alive in Christ, as are the faithful.  The faithful are alive in Christ.  Those who believe in Jesus—who actively listen to him whisper in their heart, in their mind, in their conscience; those who trust Jesus in both good times and bad are alive.

And being faithful isn’t related to the condition of our body—whether it’s alive or dead.  Being faithful is a matter of the soul, of the spirit.  And so, those who are apparently dead can certainly be alive; and those who are apparently living can certainly be dead on the inside.

Jesus challenges us to be faithful: to stop being so busy and get to know him as he is; to not let ourselves be enticed away by other shepherds and other voices.  Jesus challenges us to be faithful—like Lazarus; to live with our soul always ready to hear and respond to his voice. 

Jesus didn’t weep for Lazarus; he was overjoyed at Lazarus.  May he be joyful in us, as well; good and faithful friends of the Good Shepherd.