Summary: We have in our deepest being a desire for the infinite, a restlessness for the fullness of being.
Fifth Sunday in Lent
9 March 2008
Lazarus was rushing around more than usual. Martha had forgotten to set back the sundials the previous evening to Jerusalem daylight savings time and they were all running an hour late for synagogue. Lazarus had been coughing for some time, but felt well to go in for prayer and studying Torah. Martha and Mary turned right into the portico for the women to pray and gossip charitably sotto voce. All agreed that the local rabbi had nothing on their friend, Jeshua–Jesus, who was reported to be off in the Jordan valley with his hundred or so followers.
But the next day Lazarus couldn’t rise from his bed. He began coughing up red stains and the local doctor diagnosed consumption. Martha quickly sent a messenger by the most expensive post to summon Jesus. Day after day they waited while Lazarus weakened. Finally, with no word from the east, the young man gave up his spirit. Amid the wailing of Mary, Martha prepared the body and summoned neighbors to transport the wrapped-up corpse to the tomb. Now how would they live? Who would manage their properties? And Where was their friend? The weeping continued, day after day, night following night.
Finally the master comes. Martha remonstrates with him: “Where were you? Why didn’t you come? If you had been here my brother would still be alive.” But Jesus refocuses the question with action. He weeps. Most think he is weeping over his friend’s death. But Jesus knows what he is about to do. He knows His power over death because He has used it several times to resuscitate people shortly after death. His tears are in empathy for his women friends, for the pain of Lazarus, but most especially for his people, the Jews. They have largely refused to believe in Him, called Him a fraud and a trickster. But what He is about to do will change that forever. Lazarus has been in the tomb for three days and his rotting corpse is already giving off the sickly-sweet stench of unarguable death. If Jesus raises this one up, he has signed his own death warrant. The Jewish authorities will have to kill Jesus to stop the movement, and they might as well kill Lazarus as well. So He weeps, but mostly for the people He loves, whom He has come to save from death.
Jesus indeed raised Lazarus, and all he had predicted took place–the plot, the fulfillment of the plot, his own crucifixion, death, and, yes, resurrection. Lazarus was resuscitated only to die again, just like the daughter of Jairus, just like the widow’s son at Nain, just like Eutyches, raised by St. Paul. But Jesus rose to a new life, a new life that could not end. Jesus won for us who believe in Him, follow His way, live our baptismal commitment, a new life in Him.
Because we all have a gut feeling, a conviction deep inside our heart, that this life is not enough. We have in our deepest being a desire for the infinite, a restlessness for the fullness of being. Augustine said it best in his Confessions: Lord, thou hast made us for thyself, and we can never know rest until we rest in thee.
But we are weak and sinful, and we try to fill up that infinite hole in our being with finite things. We hear that some company is closing 96 stores and we rush to the 50% off sale, thinking some new gadget will make us happy. We hear about the latest incarnation of Grand Theft Auto, and must have it. Or we engage in sexual activity outside marriage, or we seek fulfillment in a relentless pursuit of change.
But no change–not in our routine, not in our spouse, not even in our worship–no change can fill our infinite desire for goodness. All such changes are external; all such changes are material. The only change that can fulfill me–or you–is a change of heart. And this is the change that can actually meet our need to transcend this mortal, weak existence.
The Old Testament speaks of God’s heart 26 times. It is regarded, the Holy Father says, as the organ of his will, against which man is measured. God’s heart is grieved by the sinfulness of man, so he sends the Flood to cleanse the earth and start over. The compassion of God’s heart leads him to promise never to repeat that Flood. In the great love song of the heart of God in Hosea 11, God’s heart itself is changed–impossibly changed–to relent the punishment the Jews deserve and turn back to them in love. Of course, the divine being cannot change, but the divine being, in the course of time, assumed a human heart, the sacred Heart of Jesus. It is the Sacred Heart that is pierced for our sins–my sin, your sin–broken because of our sin. And it is from that heart that the precious blood of Jesus was poured out on the earth. That very blood, under the signs of bread and wine, is poured out for the forgiveness of our sins every time we celebrate this Eucharist, this sacrificial banquet.