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The Peace Pulpit:  Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

  Fifth Sunday in Lent March 13, 2005

By special arrangement, The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company is able to make available Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton's weekly Sunday homilies given at Saint Leo Church, Detroit, MI.  Each homily is transcribed from a tape recording of the actual delivery and made available to you as an NCR Web site exclusive.  You may register for a weekly e-mail reminder that will be sent to you when each new homily is posted. From time to time, Bishop Gumbleton is traveling and unable to provide us with the homily for the week. NOTE: The homilies are available here five days after they are given, always on Friday.
This week's readings **
Ezekiel 37:12-14
"Therefore prophesy and say to them, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people. I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken and done it," declares the Lord.'"

Romans 8:8-11
And those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

John 11:1-45 or 11:3-7, 17, 20-27, 33-45
Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, "Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick." But when Jesus heard this, He said, "This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it." Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was. Then after this He said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea again." The disciples said to Him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?" Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. "But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him." This He said, and after that He said to them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep." The disciples then said to Him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover." Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. So Jesus then said to them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him." therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, so that we may die with Him." So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. Martha then said to Jesus, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to Him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?" She said to Him, "Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world." When she had said this, she went away and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, "The Teacher is here and is calling for you." And when she heard it, she got up quickly and was coming to Him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to Him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus wept. So the Jews were saying, "See how He loved him!" But some of them said, "Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?" So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, "Remove the stone." Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, "Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days." Jesus said to her, "Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?" So they removed the stone Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, "Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me." When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth." The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go." Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him.

* A longtime national and international activist in the peace movement, Bishop Gumbleton is a founding member of Pax Christi USA and an outspoken critic of the sanctions against Iraq.
He has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and has published numerous articles and reports.

* Scripture texts in this work are in modified form from the American Standard Version of the Bible and are available as part of the public domain.

For your convenience, the Scripture texts, as they appear in the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 1998, 1997, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C., may be found at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCC).

** The Web link to Pax Christi is provided as a service to our readers.

Probably all of us have heard the phrase, "Be all that you can be." Be all that you can be. Be as fully alive as possible. In fact, an old axiom in the church is "The glory of God is any one of us fully alive." God wants us to be as full of life as possible, as completely human as possible living out our full humanness. The one thing that keeps us from being fully alive, being the full human person that we're called to be, that God wants us to be, is sin.

When we fail to follow God's ways, we don't hurt God; we detract from ourselves. We make ourselves less than what we can be, what God wants us to be. Today the scriptures tell us how we truly can be what God wants us to be, how we can become truly alive.

The first lesson today is about becoming alive. It's that very famous passage from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel that describes the situation where the chosen people, because they had failed to live up to the covenant, because they had failed to be faithful to God, had been taken into exile. Everything was lost. Their city Jerusalem was destroyed. The temple was leveled, and they were as a people in shambles and suffering. Everything seemed to be like death for them.

Then Ezekiel has this vision of a valley of bones, dead dry bones. And God said to him, "Son of man, can these bones live again?" Ezekiel says, "Lord, only you know that." So then God says, "Speak on my behalf concerning these bones. Say to them, "Dry bones, hear the word of God! God says, 'I'm going to put spirit in you, make you live. I shall put sinews on you, make flesh grow on you. I shall cover you with skin and give you my spirit that you may live and then you will know that I am Yahweh your God.' "

It happens later on in that passage, Ezekiel says, "This is what Yahweh says: 'I'm going to open your tombs. I shall bring you out of your tombs, my people, and lead you back to the land of Israel. You will know that I am God, oh my people, when I open your graves and bring you out of your grave, when I put my spirit in you and you live! I shall settle you in your land and you will know that I, God, have done what I said I would do.' "

This vision of Ezekiel is a clear vision of what was happening to the chose people, that God was restoring them to the fullness of life that they had lost because they were not faithful. God was taking them back and going to restore them.

It happened actually. Sirus the Persian king defeated the Babylonians, who had taken the Jews into captivity, and now the chosen people were going back to their own land. They were going to become fully alive as God's people again. But then the important thing is to notice what will happen: "When I put my spirit in you then you live. You will know that I am God." In other words the covenant is to be restored. "I will be your God. You will be my people. You will live according to my way." And as we know from the prophet Isaiah, God's ways are not our ways. God's thoughts are not our thoughts. They're different. They're profoundly different. But when we live according to God's ways, God's thoughts, we become alive! That was what God was inviting those people to do, to come alive again by following the way of God.

In the Gospel lesson, the same thing happened only in a little bit different way. Jesus went into that village after he had delayed a couple days, and Martha went out to meet him and addressed him, saying, "If only you had been here my brother wouldn't have died." She was thinking of Jesus as a wonder worker, a healer and that's all. But then as the conversation goes along we discover it's much deeper than that, and Martha discovers it, because, as Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." She understood him to mean, of course, he would rise on the last day, at the resurrection, the general resurrection. But that was not quite right. Jesus had said something different. He said, "I am the resurrection and the life; if you believe in me you will never die and if you live and believe in me you will always be alive."

Jesus is telling Martha, "Look, believe in me."

That means more than just something in our mind about Jesus that we believe intellectually. When we believe in Jesus it is much more. One time Jesus said, "Not everybody who says to me, 'Lord, Lord.' will enter the kingdom of heaven. Only those who do the will of God." In other words follow the way of God. That's how you believe in Jesus, you follow him and then you come to new life. A life that no one can take from you. A life that begins to enable you to be all that you can be.

When we believe in Jesus, we discover Jesus in a whole variety of places. When I was hungry, you gave me to eat. When I was thirsty you gave me to drink. That's how we enter into the fullness of life, finding Jesus in others, seeing Jesus in the poor, the oppressed, those who are treated so badly in this world. We see Jesus in them and believe in Jesus, reach out to Jesus and follow him. We become alive.

There are so many different ways in which we need to follow Jesus in order to become fully alive. The Gospels spell out all these ways, but there is one that is probably the most important .

To follow Jesus most of all and to come into fullness of life, even now, because Jesus is the resurrection and the life, we must, more than anything else, heed his command: "Don't just love those who love you. Love your enemies." We have to reach out in forgiveness, reach out in healing to others in order to be healed ourselves, in order to become whole. If we hold hatred, vengeance, in our hearts we're less than human.

I've shared this with you before but it's so powerful that I think it's very important to reflect on it today. Something that happened in the Dachau concentration camp 50 some years ago when Martin Niemoeller, a Lutheran pastor, was held there because he had been preaching Jesus, following Jesus. He tells of what happened one day:

It was a moment of great significance when from my bunker cell in the Dachau concentration camp I saw a fellow prisoner being hanged outside my window. I instinctively thought, "The poor fellow. And this damn gang of murderers!" Then suddenly a question bolted through my whole being, "What if Jesus had thought and expressed such a revengeful thought as he was hanging on the cross?" Then there would be no redemption, no wholeness, no fullness of life, no peace."

That example of Jesus is fundamental to everything we believe about Jesus. He urges us never to hate, never to retaliate. Always to be like him, to love. Hatred destroys us. Violence destroys us. So Jesus is calling upon us to be like him. Martin Niemoeller wrote:

Jesus meant what he preached in all seriousness, in all honesty and he knew full well who we are in our mortal existence when he said, 'Happy are the peacemakers for people will call them sons and daughters of God just as they have called me son of God.'

So if we believe in Jesus, if we follow Jesus -- and that's what it means to believe in Jesus -- if we follow him especially in this way of forgiveness and peace and love we will become fully alive. "I am the resurrection and the life. If you believe in me you will never die. Whoever lives and believes in me will live always." Jesus is asking us during this celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation to look deeply in our hearts to see the ways that we've failed to follow him and follow him faithfully, especially in the way of love, the way of forgiveness. If we can be like Martha and say, "Yes Lord, I believe"; if we can, in fact, repeat what happened at the beginning of Lent when we were signed with ashes and we heard the words, "Repent your sin, follow Jesus"; if we repent of our sins and commit ourselves to following Jesus, we will become fully alive and become all that we can be.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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