Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent – April 6, 2014
Have you ever wondered why Jesus performed the miracles that He did? Certainly, it wouldn't be just to astound the crowds of people around Him. To say it was because He had compassion on those who were sick and suffering would be closer to the Truth, but even that falls short of explaining the true reason for His miracles. Fortunately, we don't have to guess because He tells us the reason plainly in today's Gospel reading, “that they may believe that You have sent Me.” What this means is that His miracles were done to prove to us that He is who He said He is – the Son of God. But the miracle from today's Gospel gives proof to more than just His Divinity. The raising of Lazarus from the dead goes one step further than most of the other miracles because it reveals to us not only Jesus' full divinity but also His full humanity. St. John reveals this to us so subtly that if we are not careful we could miss it.
When Jesus saw (Mary) weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; and he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”
And then, in the shortest verse in the whole Bible, we are told simply, “Jesus wept.” Two simple words, which could easily be overlooked; and yet, they are very important for our understanding of who Jesus is. To put this into perspective let us recap what happened. First, Jesus is told that His friend is sick. After hearing the news Jesus stays where He is for two more days at which point His friend is dead. Then, He tells His disciples they are going to Bethany in order to restore Lazarus to life. And, even though He knew that He was going to bring Lazarus back to life, when He arrived on the scene and saw everyone weeping, He too was overcome with grief and wept.
But what would be the reason for crying? After all, Lazarus would soon be alive once again. Was He just being overly sentimental – He saw others crying and therefore, He cried too? No, not at all. This was not a case of crying over split milk, as the saying goes. Instead, His weeping was the appropriate human response to the seriousness and horrific nature of death. We must remember that death was never supposed to be – instead, it is a result of the sin of mankind. God told Adam quite plainly that “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Death, therefore, is the consequence of sin. And sin and death were never a part of God's plan for us. Instead, He made us for Himself to take joy in Him and to love Him and to be happy with Him. In short, God made us for Life. Death, on the other hand, is the antithesis of all these things and knowing this helps us to understand why Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus – because it is the appropriate human response to death.
Considering, therefore, the seriousness of our physical death, how much more serious would be our spiritual death? After all, our physical death only separates us from our loved ones temporarily; that is, if we and they make it to Heaven. In contrast to this, spiritual death would separate us not just from our loved ones but also permanently separate us from the One who is Love. To die spiritually would be so horrific that no amount of weeping would ever help you to overcome it. Not even the tears of the God-man Jesus Christ would avail us. Of course by spiritual death I am speaking of Hell. And if physical death is an evil that God never intended for mankind then Hell is the place that He did not create and He does not wish us to be. You see, Hell isn't a place that was created by God to punish sinners, even though those who die in mortal sin are punished there. Instead, it is a place, or rather a non-place, from which God has withdrawn His presence. And for those who have chosen in this life to live outside His presence that is the only place for them after this life is over. God does not send people there – they go of their own free will. In regard to this C.S. Lewis said the following:
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell choose it. Without that self-choice, there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek, find. To those who knock, it is opened.
At this point there is a grave danger that must be addressed. Some people wrongly think to themselves, “Oh well, I don't have to worry about my sins yet. I have plenty of time for that later.” To that I say no; no, you do not have time! And don't take my word for it – remember the words of our Lord from one of His parables, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you.”
Why does He use such harsh and insistent words here? Because it is a warning to us all – a warning that is given out of love for our eternal soul that was made in His image. It is the same love which caused Him to weep at the tomb of His friend. We, as created beings, cannot fully grasp the depth of His love for us. Although, when we contemplate the Cross and everything He suffered for us, we can catch a glimpse of how much He loves us. You must always remember and understand this: your soul and the soul of every other person was made by and for the love of God. In response to this, our duty here on this earth and our destiny in Heaven is to love God. Heaven in fact is love of God – it is love of Love Himself. That is why Hell is the ultimate evil and torture – it is the eternal separation from any ability to love ever again. But the human and divine Heart of Jesus loves you so much that He died for you on the Cross – because He sincerely desires for each and every one of us to be with Him. And to see any one of us lost forever would cause Him to weep once again. But, as I already pointed out, it would do us no good because even the tears of God cannot extinguish the fires of Hell because it is the place for those who have definitively rejected Him.
At this point don't fall for Satan's lies when he whispers in your ear, “Oh, you don't have to worry about that – you've never rejected God.” We have all rejected God, each and every one of us. Every time we ignore God speaking to us through our conscience – we reject God. Every time we ignore one of the teachings of the Church – we reject God. Every time we sin mortally – we reject God. And if in this life we have consistently rejected Him then the only place left for us after this life is over is Hell. But it is not too late to keep that from happening because Jesus is the God of Resurrection. He called Lazarus forth from the tomb and He can bring your soul back to life if it is dead from mortal sin; that is why He gave us the gift of the Sacrament of Penance, but you must repent now – before this life is over. Even if up to this point in your life you have rejected Him a million times, the love within the Sacred Heart of Jesus desires that you repent, go to confession and follow Him.