Homily for 5th Sunday of Lent – Year A

The Spirit of Jesus Makes the Difference and Gives Us Life!
Readings: Ezk 7:12-14; Ps 129; 2nd: Rom 8:8-11; Gos: Jh 11:1-45)

This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans), Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details and comments contact him on: canice_c_njoku@yahoo.com, canicechukwuemeka@gmail.com.

As we approach the Paschal Feast, today being the 5th Sunday of Lent, the Holy Mother Church in her infinite love and wisdom draws our attention to the power of the Holy Spirit which animates and gives life to our mortal bodies. The motto or slogan of one of the world’s popular soda (mineral) brand called Seven Up (7Up) is: “The difference is clear!” Today therefore the church says to us that what makes the difference in our lives is the Spirit of God just as Paul tells us that: “What gives life is the Spirit of God, the flesh profits nothing” (John 6, 63). Therefore, as we prepare for the Paschal Feast, we must open up ourselves to Christ’s life giving Spirit. We are also called in a special way to pray for those who are to be given new life of the Spirit in baptism during the Paschal Feast.
The first reading of today is a promise which we must claim and make our own in-toto. It is a promise of restoration, revival and regeneration of our weakened lives through the tiresome and hectic journey of life and especially, during this Lent. Although this promise was made to Israel of Old during their exilic predicament, it is still very much valid for us and our generation. In our own time too, though most of us are in our homes and countries, we are not far from being in a spiritual exile, far from God. In light of this spiritual exilic predicament, it is only the Spirit of God that can restore us to our normal state. Hence, the Lord in his loving kindness promises today: “…And I shall put my spirit in you, and you will live, and I shall resettle you on your own soil…”
In the second reading, Paul seeing our exilic predicament reminds us that it is only the Spirit of Jesus that can restore us to life. Hence, he tells us that: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you…he will give life to your mortal bodies…” What Paul insinuates here is simple, the fact that without the Spirit of God having an upper hand in the believer’s life, the believer is as good as dead. This is evident in the life of Saul the former king of Israel. Immediately the Spirit of God left him, his life became miserable, devilish and of course, he was as good as dead (I Sam 16: 14-16). A true child of God needs no soothsayer to alert him/her that what keeps one going is the Spirit of God. It is the symbol and evidence of activity of life in us, and indeed in all God’s creatures. This is why Paul warns us sternly: “…Do not grief the Holy Spirit of God who is God’s mark of ownership of you for the day of redemption” (Eph 4, 30). If we do, He leaves us and we become as good as dead, comatose and barren. The Spirit of Jesus is what therefore makes the difference, because he is both our life line and support. Losing him means losing life, and drifting towards the dangerous domain of carnality and eventual death.
The gospel of this Sunday presents us with Jesus’ demonstration of the power that makes the difference, the only power that is capable of raising Lazarus from death and the power that restores life. He proved that he himself is “the resurrection and the life.” Jesus could not have achieved this safe through the power of the Holy Spirit whom he himself relied so much on. Often times we have seen or heard some self acclaimed “men/women of God” laying claims to their ability to either raise the dead, or that they themselves will rise from the dead as Christ did. Unfortunately, most of these claims have ended up as empty bragging motivated by the duo – vainglory and sheer spiritual arrogance! The reason is that they thought it was by power or mere might, worst still was the fact that they sought to take the glory while cajoling the power of the Holy Spirit. Resurrection, restoration and regeneration are all in the domain of the Holy Spirit and no man or woman can replicate this power. Rather, the only thing we can do is to humble and allow ourselves to be used by Him. A couple of years ago a self acclaimed man of God who was nicknamed “Jesus of Oyinbo”, arose and claimed that he will die and rise up on the third day as Christ did. How disappointed are his disciples who have since disintegrated that up till date the grave has swallowed and held him captive. Also and more recently, a couple of weeks ago some members of a Pentecostal sect came to a village close to mine and insisted that they must exhume the corpse of a young man who died abroad and was brought home for burial. This was after about a week of its. Funny enough, in spite of the resistance of the traditional ruler and the members of the community who viewed such an act as against their custom, these zealots insisted and promised under oath that they have the powers to resurrect the already decaying corpse. The villagers succumbed to their request but invited the press and the police to be around in order to witness and cover the miracle. Then, the prayer warriors went into action and started conjuring, shouting like the prophets of Baal throughout the day. Around 4pm some others came to join them in the battle. After all serious efforts they became exhausted and worn out due to their shouting, kicking and boxing the air. Then, they tried to escape but the villagers rounded them up and handed them over to the Police who whisked them into their cell where up till this moment they are still cooling off while awaiting trial for breaching the custom and peace of the poor community. In all of these, these people failed to realize that it is only the spirit of Jesus that gives life. This is why Jesus says: “I am the resurrection and the life.” Whenever he gives or restores life he does it for the glory of God as he said in the case of Lazarus: This sickness will end not in death but in god’s glory…”
There are a few lessons we must learn. First, is the fact that it takes love for any miracle to be carried out. We were told that when the message came to Jesus: “The man you love is ill.” Jesus went because of the great love he had for Lazarus and his family. Hence, their sorrow became his sorrow, their pain his pain: “And Jesus wept!” In order words, it was compassionate love that moved Jesus to demonstrate this power and not just mere emotion. All he did was borne out of love and for the glory of God, and not because he just wanted to show off. Second, our faith is very important in the working of any miracle for us. This is why Jesus constantly said and asked Mary and Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. If any one believes in me even though he dies he will live…Do you believe in this…?” In the case of resurrecting Lazarus, Jesus’ good will, compassionate love and the faith of Mary and Martha fused together in order to kindle the power of the Holy Spirit into action. The third lesson is that with Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit everything is Possible because Jesus has authority over life and death, and even in the grave He is Lord. Therefore, Jesus is ever willing to help us no matter what it will cost him. Not even the plots of the Jews to kill him could stop him from going to wake Lazarus up. Also not even our state or how long we have been “dead” or been in the “grave” of this world will prevent Jesus from saving us when the time comes for him to do so. He calls us by our name to today as he did Lazarus: “Here! Come out!” My dear friends, when you hear His voice do not hesitate to come out as the Psalmist says to us: “Oh that today you listen to his voice harden not your hearts!” If we hearken to his voice definitely, he will give command in the power of the Holy Spirit, to all the entanglements of this world that hold us bound: “Unbind Him, let him go free.”
Peace be with you all!

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