In raising Lazarus for death, Jesus in today’s Gospel says to Martha, the sister of Lazarus, “If anyone believes in me, even though he dies, he will live, /and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
There are two statements of Truth here. The first, Jesus says, “If anyone believes in me, even though he dies, he will live.” What does this mean? The “death” that Jesus refers to here is not physical death but, the death that is caused by our sinfulness.
We all know so well, that if we should hurt deeply the people we love by our grievous sins, we may cause “death” in our relationship with them. Examples of such grievous sinful deeds could be: infidelity to the marriage vows or a breaking of the religious vows, or dishonesty in the management of funds or the killing of someone through our drunk driving or squandering our financial needs through gambling and the like. The effects of the woundedness of our sin can be so deep that there is little hope of reinstating our relationship with people we love or who love us. Sin has the potential of causing “death” to relationships.
If our sin is habitual it becomes worse and more grievous. A sinner can reach a state of sinfulness where he or she has lost everything that is worth loving and living for. In such a state of helplessness and hopelessness, Jesus in today’s Gospel calls it “death,” but at the same time He adds, “If you believe in me, even though you die, you will live.”
In other words, Jesus is saying to us today, regardless of how grievous our sins are; regardless of how deeply we may have wounded our loved ones in our relationships; regardless of how helpless and hopeless we may be feeling, “Believe in me, and I will restore your relationship! I will bring back to life what you have lost through your sinfulness and rejection of My Love for you. Do you believe me?
This is the Good News of Salvation in today’s Gospel, but unfortunately, while many sinners hear this truth, and even believe in this Truth, but do not persevere in their faith. . . and if the relationship is not restored in their time, they give up on God! Have we come across such persons or have we ourselves experienced such weakness in our faith?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is urging us to have a deeper faith in Him regardless of how heavy the crosses are that we are called to carry. We have to believe that the weight of the crosses of our lives will never crush us, because Jesus is there, like Simon of Cyrene, to help us carry our crosses; especially those very heavy crosses that have caused “death” in relationships with our loved ones.
Our faith needs to be deepened daily. Whether we are conscious of it or not, each day, we either strengthen our faith in God or weaken it through the way we live. How often have we heard parents saying that it is better that we allow our children to grow up and make their own choice of whether they want to be Baptised or not. We give the very best of everything to our children because we love them; the best food, clothing, housing, education. However, when it comes to faith, if we love them, and if we love God, why are we allowing them to choose whether to love God as a Christian or not?! If so, why don’t we allow them to grow up to choose their own schools or whether they want to go to school or not?
My brothers and sisters in Christ, the wisdom of our Church on “Infant Baptism” is not about indoctrination of our children. When we encourage our children to attend catechism classes, they are not merely memorising the Commandments and prayers of the Church. During catechism our children are learning and imbibing Christ-like values. This is crucial when they are still young and open to the wholesome Truth of the Gospel. And, when such values are also witnessed by our parents and siblings then they will grow up to be Christ-like persons.
With today’s secular society in which we live in, if we do not have infant Baptism and if our children do not grow up in a Christ-centred home, and if we allow our children to skip catechism classes because they have piano lessons, tuition, examinations or family lunch or any other reasons, our children will grow up with the attitude that God can wait; He is of secondary importance. In doing so, they will more easily absorb the secular values that promote self-centredness. And, if this continues, “Do you think, they will be able to make their informed and mature choice to get Baptised when they grow up?” And, if such a person is to commit grievous sins that cause the “death” in the relationship of the people they love, without a Christ-like faith, “What chances do they have for any restoration of their relationships”?
As time is a constraint, let us next reflect on the second statement that Jesus made to Martha. He says, “Whoever believes in Me will never die.” By this, Jesus is referring to a Truth and Reality that is more than our physical death because we are finite human beings and we will all have to die one day. So, Jesus is in fact offering every believer the gift of eternal life.
Accepting Jesus’ gift of eternal life is not just saying “yes” to Jesus as our Saviour. Believing and accepting Jesus is also embracing a new lifestyle, that radically changes our attitudes and worldview of what life is about. This morning around 7.30 am, I was making my strong coffee in our Jesuit kitchen. There I met Fr Colin. He remarked, “Wow, I just finished hearing Confession; there was a big crowd. I then said to him, “Yes, that’s the Holy Week crowd.” I then added, “I have to hear Confessions at the 8.15 am and 10.15 am Masses before my 12.15 Mass . . . Before, I could finish my sentence, Fr Colin immediately offered, “I will take your 8.15 am Mass Confession!” I thanked him, but I was so relieved to hear of his offer and confessed, “Actually, I haven’t finished preparing my homily yet!”
To me, this is God’s Providential Care for me. He never fails to intervene. He truly provides for our needs! When we embrace the faith in Christ, one of the most radical transformation of being a Christian is to change from self-centredness to other-centeredness. Such Christ-like values are meant to become so integrated in us that it is our second nature to do good. So, I could see that Fr Colin’s generous offer to hear Confession was his living of his Christ-like faith that become second-nature.
Fr Colin is one of so many people I know personally who are Christ-centred; there are so many of you in our Parish family alone! Young professionals, directing traffic and many others serving selflessly in our Parish ministries, NCCs, PPC exco, PFC, SMCT, ECM, Flower Ladies, choir, Parish staff and the like. These are people who experience the deeper joy of the Christian faith through going beyond the basics of their faith. Like many others if they wish, they too can come up with a string of valid reasons on why they should not volunteer as catechism teachers or turn up as NCC meetings, and to stay at home to care for their family needs and attend to the many other needs in their lives . . . but they don’t. They are Christians who have a “creative fidelity” to God. They are people who have as many needs as we do, but still are able to find “creative” ways of loving and serving God beyond their comfort zones, and beyond their family and personal needs.
If you ask them, I believe, their honest answer would be that, “the sacrifices are difficult and demanding, but the fulfilment is even greater.” And, to such strong believers, the words of Jesus, “Whoever believes in Me will never die,” makes perfect sense . . . because in living our faith more fully, we grow in the greater wisdom of experiencing that this life on earth is about, “dying to ourselves so that we can live for God and then live in eternal life!
Let me conclude and sum up by saying that, God is our True hope especially, when experience deep hurts and “death” in our human relationships through our faults and sins. This is because God is always Merciful and full of Compassion. And, when we live a Christ-like life, and respond like Martha in today’s Gospel, “Yes, Lord, I believe You are the Christ,” our lives on earth will not end in a sunset, but in the sunrise of eternal life with God.
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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