5th Sunday of Lent

For the third weekend in a row we have a fairly long Gospel. Even the short version is longer than we’re used to. But these three Gospels, according to John, are a set. In this “A” year we get to read some of John’s best work. Hopefully you remember that two weeks ago we heard the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. He said to the woman, “I am living water.”


Then last week Jesus healed the blind man. Jesus declared “I am the light.” Today we hear the familiar story of Jesus raising his friend Lazurus from the dead. You may wonder, as the people did, why didn’t Jesus rush back to save Lazurus while he was still alive. When He heard about His friend’s illness, he “remained for two days in the place where He was.” He also said, “This illness is not to end in death, but it is for the glory of God that the Son of Man may be glorified through it.” He could have rushed back and healed Lazurus. He could have even healed Lazurus “long distance”. He’s God. He can do that.


Remember that the people of Bethany, where Martha, Mary, and Lazurus lived weren’t exactly waiting to give Jesus the key to the city. They had tried to stone Him to death, so there was a certain amount of risk in going back there. But after two days, He did go back.


When He got there, Martha ran out to meet Him. She says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now, I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Imagine having that much faith! Lazurus has been in the tomb for four days. When they rolled back the stone the stench must have been overwhelming. But Jesus said, “Lazurus, come out!” And out he came. Jesus defeated death! That’s why Jesus had said “it is for the glory of God that the Son of Man may be glorified through it.”

Jesus makes His third “I am” statement. “I am the resurrection and the life.” Three Gospels—three “I ams”. I am the living water. I am the Light. I am the resurrection and the life.” Next Sunday, Palm Sunday, when we’ll all participate in the reading of His passion, Jesus will be asked twice if He’s the Messiah and both times He’ll answer, “You say that I am.” That’s a critical point. In this case it doesn’t matter what He says. It’s what we believe that’s important.


As Catholics, we’re supposed to look at the big picture. We don’t teach our kids individual Scripture passages. We tell them stories. On this fifth Sunday of Lent we’re near the end of a six-week experience. It’s “the greatest story ever told.” In just two weeks we’ll celebrate His glorious resurrection. Today He said that Lazurus must die “for the glory of God.” It’s a precursor to His own death which would also be for the glory of God.


So, what can we take home from today’s Gospel? I’d say that with God, anything is possible. We just have to have faith. There was no reason for Martha and Mary to believe that Jesus could raise their brother from the dead after he’d been in the tomb for four days. If anything, you’d think that they would be angry and disappointed that Jesus hadn’t been there to save His friend. But their faith was strong enough that they believed that Jesus could bring him back. And, so He did.


But what about us? When we ask Jesus for something do we really believe He’ll come through for us? Or do we have doubts? Think about the people who built this church. Nobody, and I mean nobody in Saint Louis in 1870 thought Bohemian immigrants could build such a beautiful house of God. Everybody expected them to fail. But they had faith. They didn’t think; they didn’t suspect; they didn’t hope; they knew that their prayers would be answered. And when they were finished, people came from all over to celebrate their accomplishment with them.


Then just 26 years later they had to do it all again when the tornado destroyed what they had built. And again, they KNEW they could do it. That’s the kind of faith that built this place and filled the pews several times each Sunday.


Now, if I were to look you in the eye and say to you that we can restore Saint John Nepomuk to that former glory, how would you respond? Would you think I’m crazy? Would you say it’s impossible? Or would you say, “Yes! With God anything is possible. If Jesus could raise Lazurus from the dead and then raise Himself from the dead, then He can certainly make this church come alive again.”


As we prepare to celebrate our 160th anniversary this year, I want you to think about what you can personally do to ensure that we have a 170th and 180th and beyond. I suggest we all start with prayer. Ask God for the faith necessary to move mountains. Because it’s faith that will attract more people. They may come the first time to see the statues, or the stained glass windows, but it’s our faith that will bring them back again.


That means working together and loving one another. There’s no room for negativity in God’s Church. A house divided against itself cannot stand. If we want to do more than just keep the doors open, we all have to be on board.


Our Church, both this chapel and the Catholic Church in general is in a crisis. That empty seat next to you used to have someone sitting in it. I believe that, like Lazurus’ death, this crisis is “is for the glory of God that the Son of Man may be glorified through it.” One thing that impresses people is when someone or some thing rises from the dead. Pope Francis seems to be the right man to lead this revival of the Church. I believe we can do our part right here in South Saint Louis.


Pray every day for our historic church. Tell anyone you can get to listen that we have something special here. Most important of all, love one another. That’s what Jesus asked us to do. In fact he called it the most important commandment. We’re living in a very impersonal world. Facebook and twitter have taken the place of face-to-face communications. Don’t get me wrong. I have almost 200 Facebook “friends”. We use social media to promote our chapel. But people are desparate for human contact.


If you and I go out of our way to make people feel welcome, to make them feel loved, we won’t be able to keep them away.


The shortest verse in the Bible is part of toay’s Gospel. “And Jesus wept.” Jesus, the Son of God, knew what He was going to do. He knew He would raise Lazurus from the dead. But the human Jesus, the man Jesus, had lost a good friend. He couldn’t help it. He cried. He became man so He could feel what we feel. And the loss of a friend, a human contact, filled Him with tears. He may have been constantly surrounded with His apostles, but Lazurus was His friend; His buddy. Even Jesus needed to feel the love of another human being.


Today’s Gospel is telling us to have faith, but it’s also telling us to have love. Love one another. Welcome visitors. Most of all, love God. He loves us and will do whatever we ask of Him as long as we have faith; faith as strong as Martha and Mary who believed in Jesus, even when He had disappointed them.



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