5th Sunday of Lent Ezekiel 37:12–14; Romans 8:8–11; John 11:1–45
Most athletes cried Jesus’ humanity inspires us. His divinity empowers us. Jesus gives us new life and hope. One of the most touching moments in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles came by surprise. It happened one night on prime-time television, after Jeff Blatnik of the United States defeated Thomas Johansson of Sweden for the gold medal in Graeco-Roman wrestling.
When the match ended, Blatnik didn’t jump up and down. He didn’t throw his arms into the air. He didn’t make sweeping bows to the crowd. He simply dropped to his knees, crossed himself, bowed his head, and prayed.
When the camera zoomed in on his face, millions of viewers saw the torrent of tears pouring down Blatnik’s cheeks.
Blatnik had every right to cry. But it wasn’t because he had taken the gold in an event the United States had never won before. There was a bigger reason.
Two years before, Jeff Blatnik had contracted cancer. Eighteen months before the games, he had undergone surgery. And now, in the face of great odds, he had won the second biggest battle of his life.
The next day all major newspapers carried Blatnik’s story. Referring to Blatnik’s tears, sportswriter Bill Lyons wrote:
One of the most worthwhile things about the Olympics is that they remind us of the cleansing, therapeutic value of a good cry. . . .
You watch the gold medalists mount the victory platform, turn to face their flags and listen to their national anthems, and in almost every instance their eyes begin to mist. . . .
The sleek, the strong, the swift, they all succumb. And in doing so, in showing their humanity, they become even more appealing.
And that’s what happened in Blatnik’s case.
Jeff Blatnik became an instant hero, not because of his victory over Johansson, nor because of his victory over cancer, but because he shared his humanity with us. Suddenly the 220-pound giant was like us in a beautiful, touching way.
We see the same kind of touching beauty in Jesus in today’s gospel. We see Jesus, the Son of God, cry at the tomb of Lazarus. It’s one of the most moving scenes in the gospels. And the reason it’s moving is because Jesus shares his humanity with us.
We tend to forget about the humanity of Jesus. We tend to forget Jesus got hungry in the desert. We tend to forget Jesus got thirsty on the cross. We tend to forget Jesus got weary on the way to Samaria. We tend to forget Jesus grew depressed at Gethsemane.
Why is it so important that we remember these gospel scenes? Why is it so important that we notice the tears flowing down the cheeks of Jesus? Why is it so important that we keep in mind the humanity of Jesus?
It’s because the humanity of Jesus is something we can all identify with. Because Jesus got hungry and thirsty, because he got weary and depressed, we know he understands how we feel in these same situations. We know he understands what it’s like to be human. And just knowing this gives us hope.
But today’s gospel contains an even more important point about Jesus. It not only shows Jesus weeping for Lazarus; it also shows him raising Lazarus.
Today’s gospel makes it clear that Jesus isn’t just another human person. He’s also the Son of God. Jesus can not only inspire us by his humanity. He can also empower us by his divinity. Jesus can touch our lives in a way that no other human could ever touch them.
Take an example.
Robert McAfee Brown was a chaplain aboard a troop transport after World War II. The transport was bringing marines back home from Japan.
Some of the marines asked Brown to join them in a daily Bible-study session.
One day they were studying the story of the raising of Lazarus from the tomb. After the session a young marine told Brown privately, “God seemed to speak to me through the story of Lazarus today.”
The marine explained how one day in Japan he had gotten into serious trouble. Although no one knew about the episode, the marine’s personal guilt overwhelmed him. He had even considered killing himself.
The marine said that during the study session he began to realize that Jesus understood his situation. Jesus was a man, too.
More than this, the marine said he began to realize that Jesus was also God. Jesus could help him in the most powerful way imaginable.
He could raise him to new life, as he did Lazarus.
In his great sin and guilt, the marine had discovered Jesus.
More important, he had discovered that Jesus was the resurrection and the life not only in the next life but also in this life.
The Olympic story of Jeff Blatnik, the gospel story of Lazarus, the war story of the marine these stories speak to us about Jesus in two special ways.
First, they remind us that Jesus is human, just as we are. He became one of us and shared our humanity with us. Because of this, he inspires us and gives us hope.
Second, the stories remind us that Jesus is also the Son of God. He can help us in a way no human can. He can help us beyond our wildest dreams. He can raise us to new life, as he raised Lazarus.
This is the good news in today’s readings. It’s the good news of the humanity of Jesus, which inspires us. It’s also the good news of the divinity of Jesus, which empowers us. It’s the good news of Jesus, who raises us to new life. Let’s close by recalling God’s promise to Israel and through Israel to us in today’s first reading: “So prophesy to my people Israel and tell them that I, the sovereign LORD, am going to open their graves. I am going to take them out. . . .
I will put my breath in them, bring them back to life, . . . Then they will know that I am the LORD. I have promised that I would do this and I will. I, the LORD, have spoken.” Ezekiel 37:12–14
Series II 5th Sunday of Lent Ezekiel 37:12–14; Romans 8:8–11; John 11:1–45
Yes, Lord, I believe! Jesus shared our human life that we might share his divine life. Years ago Al Dewlen wrote an article that appeared in the Amarillo News-Globe. It dealt with his son Mike, who was killed in Vietnam.
Al got the news on Friday evening at 5:15 P.M. He had just returned from work and was standing over a messy workbench in his garage, trying to decide what job to tackle before supper.
Suddenly he heard his name. He looked up and saw his wife and the pastor of his church standing at the doorway. His jaw dropped. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “Mike’s been killed,” his wife said.
Immediately Al lost all contact with reality around him. His mind flashed back across the years.
First, he saw Mike as a six-year-old, playing Little League baseball. Next, he saw Mike as captain of the high school’s football team. Finally, he saw Mike in his marine uniform.
Mike was a son he was truly proud of.
Al said later that the news of Mike’s death left him so shocked and so stunned that he was unable to speak to his wife or hold her in his arms.
All he could think of was Mike, lying cold, lifeless, and still. This touching story gives us an insight into how Jesus must have felt when he learned that Lazarus had died. He too was shocked and stunned.
Describing his reaction to the news, the Bible says, “Jesus wept.”
This is the shortest verse in the Bible. It is just two words: “Jesus wept.” Yet it describes one of the most moving scenes in the Gospel.
And the reason it is so moving is that it gives us an insight into the humanity of Jesus. It gives us an insight into the vulnerability of Jesus.
We tend to forget that Jesus had a heart and loved, as we do. We tend to forget that Jesus had emotions and cried, as we do. We tend to forget that Jesus had a body and suffered, as we do.
Why is it so important to remember these things about Jesus?
Why is it so important to remember that Jesus loved, as we do? Why is it so important to remember that Jesus cried, as we do? Why is it so important to remember that Jesus suffered, as we do?
It’s important because it makes it possible for us to relate to Jesus. He was like us in all things but sin.
Because Jesus loved, because he cried, because he suffered, he understands how we feel when we love, when we cry, when we suffer.
And just knowing that Jesus understands this inspires us to carry on when life gets hard or when tragedy strikes.
But today’s gospel shows us something even more important about Jesus.
Besides showing Jesus weeping for Lazarus, it shows Jesus raising Lazarus to life.
In other words, besides showing us the humanity of Jesus, it shows us the divinity of Jesus.
It shows us that Jesus was not only human, like us, but also the Son of God, totally unlike us. But today’s gospel goes even further.
It shows Jesus making a remarkable promise to us. He says, “Those who believe in me will live, even though they die.”
In other words, Jesus will do for us something even greater than he did for Lazarus.
Lazarus eventually grew old and died. Jesus’ gift to him was only a temporary gift of earthly life. But Jesus’ gift to us is a permanent gift of eternal life.
Elsewhere in the Gospel Jesus says of this permanent gift: “Just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, in the same way the Son gives life to those he wants to. . . . Just as the Father is himself the source of life, in the same way he has made his Son to be the source of life.” John 5:21, 26
And so today’s gospel reading is a kind of capsule summary of the biblical message of salvation.
First, it tells us that Jesus was truly human. He had emotions, just as we do. He loved and cried, just as we do.
And because Jesus was truly human, we can relate to him and he can relate to us. He knows how we feel when we suffer and cry.
And he will comfort and strengthen us in these moments.
Second, it tells us that Jesus is also truly divine. He is God’s own Son.
And because of this, he possesses the power to do for us what no other person on earth can do.
If we believe, he can give us the gift of eternal life.
And so today’s readings are a capsule summary of the biblical message of salvation: The Son of God became one of us that he might share with us the life of God. Let’s close by recalling Martha’s response to Jesus’ question:
“[T]hose who live and believe in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord!” [Martha] answered. I do believe.”
So let us pray: Yes, Lord, we do believe that you are true God and true man.
Yes, Lord, we do believe that you became one of us that we might become one with you.
Yes, Lord, we do believe that in the world to come you will wipe away all tears like those you shed for Lazarus. Then there will be no more death, no more grief, and no more crying.
Yes, Lord, we do believe. M. L.
Series III 5th Sunday of Lent Ezekiel 37:12–14; Romans 8:8–11; John 11:1–45
Jesus Son of God and Son of Man. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will never die.” John 11:25–26
Carol Slezak is a sportswriter for the Chicago Sun-Times. A few years back, she wrote a New Year’s Eve column that caught a lot of people’s attention.
She began by saying that the star athletes of the year did more than break records. They also broke some old stereotypes and redefined the word masculine.
How? They shed tears in public without feeling any need to apologize. And that was something refreshing and beautiful to behold. For example, Tiger Woods cried and hugged his dad for a full minute after winning the Master’s tournament.
Home-run slugger Mark McGwire shed tears as he donated a large chunk of his salary to start a foundation for abused kids.
Former basketball great Oscar Robertson shed tears as he donated his kidney to his sick daughter.
Buffalo Bills’ star quarterback Jim Kelly shed tears as he announced his retirement. Finally, there was hockey star Mario Lemieux. As he slowly circled the ice in Pittsburgh, he blew kisses to the fans with one hand and wiped his tears with the other.
Yes, Carol Slezak was right. Those tears were refreshing and beautiful to behold.
Instead of lowering our esteem for these athletes, the tears made them more appealing to us.
Suddenly, we saw that these sports icons were like us. As a result, we could relate to them in a way that we could not do so before. Today’s Gospel shows Jesus not as some distant spiritual icon, but as someone we can relate to. We see him weeping at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. And that is beautiful to behold.
We tend to forget that Jesus was human. We tend to forget that Jesus had feelings like us. We tend to forget that he felt tired, hungry, and thirsty. Why is it so important that we remember these facts?
Why is it so important that we notice the tears flowing down his cheeks at the tomb? It’s because this is a dimension of Jesus that we can all identify with.
Because Jesus had feelings, because he got tired, hungry, and thirsty, he knows exactly how we feel at times. And this is important if we are to identify with Jesus and relate to him.
Because he had feelings, he understands what it’s like to be human. And just knowing this makes all the difference in the world.
Today’s Gospel shows us not only a Jesus who inspires us by his humanity, but also a Jesus who transforms us by his divinity.
We not only see him weep at the tomb of Lazarus, but we also see him raise Lazarus to life.
It shows us a Jesus who can touch our lives in a way that no other human can do. An example will help us illustrate.
Thomas Merton was a great modern spiritual leader. His life story reads like a movie script.
He was orphaned at 16, became a Communist at 20, found Jesus at 23, became a Catholic at 24, and entered a Trappist monastery at 26. He was in his late teens backpacking his way through Europe when he began his spiritual journey. It started when he started visiting the great cathedrals. He was overwhelmed by their art.
In his spiritual autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, Merton writes: And now for the first time in my life I began to find out something of Who this Person was that men called Christ.
The [artists] . . . of those forgotten days had left upon the walls of their churches [paintings] . . . which by the peculiar grace of God, I was able in some measure to apprehend. . . .
But above all, the most real and most immediate source of this grace was Christ himself . . . teaching me who he was.
So, because Jesus was a Son of Man, he could inspire young Merton.
And because he was also the Son of God, he could do infinitely more. He could also transform him beyond his wildest dream.
Now return to each one of us here in this Church.
Carol Slezak’s story of the athletes, the Gospel’s story of Lazarus, and the life story of Thomas Merton speak to us about Jesus in a way that we can understand and relate to. And what do they tell us?
First, they tell us that Jesus is the Son of Man. He was like us in all things but sin. He understands what it is like to be human. He understands what it is like to be tempted and rejected, and hurt.
Second, the stories tell he is not only a Son of Man, but also the Son of God.
He can do for us what no other person on earth could ever do. He can raise us to new life and transform us, as he did Lazarus. This is the Good News contained in today’s readings.
It is the Good News that Jesus is both Son of Man and Son of God.
It is the Good News that Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves.
It is the Good News that if we open our hearts to Jesus, he will show us life as we’ve never seen it before.
This is the great mystery that we celebrate in this liturgy.