Jesus Wept (5th Sunday of Lent, Year A)
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About 21 years ago, when I was a freshman in high school, my family was in the middle of a lot of activity. I was in the first year of high school. My mom was pregnant with child number 13, my sister Theresa Rose. We had recently sold the home we grew up in in Hazelwood and moved to a larger house in St. Peters. Life was pretty good and exciting but that was all going to change very quickly. One night my mom started to experience extreme pain unlike anything she had felt before. What she didn’t know at the time was she was bleeding internally, something that quickly put her life and the life of my unborn sister in extreme danger. In the middle of the night, while many of us still slept, my mom was rushed to the hospital. By the time the doctors diagnosed the problem, my mother had lost half of the blood in her body and my baby sister had been without oxygen for a devastating amount of time. Theresa Rose was delivered immediately to give her and my mother the best chance of survival. Within a short time the doctors gave us terrible news; my sister would not survive the day and my mother’s condition was critical.
This is the news I woke up to that day. First being told I had a new baby sister and secondly that she would not be with us very long. I cannot describe the impact of the news; I was shocked, I was in disbelief, I had trouble breathing; it was too much to handle. In the following hours I remember pleading with God asking him to spare my sister, to save my mom, to make all of this go away. I wondered how He could let this happen, I wanted to know what I did wrong, what I needed to do to make it all better. I was frightened, I was sad, I was angry with God. But these thoughts and feelings did not change the reality; my sister would soon die and pass from this world to the next. Perhaps one of the most beautiful and difficult moments of my life came when mom and dad called me into the room to hold my little sister for the first and only time, to kiss her and to thank God for her life which would end moments later in my parents arms.
There were few words that could console me after my little sister died. But the shortest verse in the bible did, the verse in today’s gospel from John. Jesus also loses someone close to him, his friend Lazarus. And when he sees the grief and confusion this death causes to Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha, dear friends of Christ, the shortest verse also becomes one of the most powerful and profound. It simply says, “And Jesus wept.”
The power of this verse is that it reveals the heart of God, the heart of Jesus Christ. He was a man like us, He felt love and joy and anger and yes, even sadness at the death of a beloved friend! This verse reminded me in my suffering that I was loved and cared for by a God who was not indifferent to the hardships of life. He knew how I felt because He himself had wept for a loved one who had died.
I believe now, more than ever, we need to remember this extraordinary scripture! At a time when our world seems to falling apart with natural disasters, civil unrest, multiple conflicts, horrendous crimes and heartbreaking tragedies, it can be easy for us to wonder where God is. Does He even care when we are suffering? Does it matter to Him whether our loved ones live or die? We can easily question his Love for us, his Power and Wisdom, and why He continues to let bad things happen to innocent people.
The end of the gospel story gives us the answer to that seemingly impossible question. The tears that Jesus cried for Lazarus were not tears of despair or hopelessness. They were tears of sadness, profound sadness at the pain of death and the confusion and separation it brings. But after He cries, Jesus shows us that neither death nor sadness is the final word. He raises Lazarus, He calls him out of the tomb to show the people of his time and people of every age that his power defeats all death, every evil. His life is now the final word for all who believe in Him and nothing, not even death or the separation it brings can defeat his Divine Love. The good news of the gospel is that we have a God who loves us so much he is moved by our sorrow, our suffering, and our loss. He is never indifferent.
This power of Jesus, his victory over death didn’t heal my sister or bring her back to life. It will not always take away the loss and pain we are bound to experience in this fallen world. But it always gives meaning and value to those awful moments. God doesn’t cause our sufferings, He is saddened by the loss and the pain they cause. He loves us so much he desired to experience all of the emotions that we do in our daily lives.
Although I didn’t see it right away, the power of the resurrection was found in every aspect of my sister’s death. Before she died, she was baptized and confirmed, assuring her a place in heaven with the God who made her. And as short as her life was, she taught me the dignity and value of a life, no matter how short or damaged. And perhaps most beautifully, it was through her 14 or so hours here on earth that my own heart was opened to hear God’s plan for me. My sister’s death helped me to hear God’s invitation to the priesthood.
Reflect often on the lesson of today’s gospel where Jesus shows us his power over death. Let it free you from those fears that paralyze you. Let it bring you courage and hope in difficult times. Let it bring meaning to your own suffering. Christ turns loss into gain, defeat into victory, sadness into joy, death into life. Let us be faithful so that He can do the same in our lives!
Fr. Kevin's Schroeder's homilies are fed to this site from his personal blog, Black-Robed Blogger.
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