Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent, Cycle B – St. Jude Given March 21, 2021 by Deacon Ken Steponaitis
Imagine a life where no matter what happens, good or bad, we are at peace. That even in the difficult times of our life, we recognize there is purpose for those difficulties. Imagine too that we have a clarity of our intended purpose despite whatever difficulties we see coming our way. We know the only way any good can come of what it is we are to be engaged in, we know, with all clarity that things will be better than they ever could be if we avoid our true purpose.
Seeing this reality is hard. For those who are more seasoned, like myself, I know that the greatest things I have encountered in my life required that I endure difficult and hard things first. But even at a young age, it is possible to come to this conclusion. We only need to look at either at your own past experiences or the experiences of those around us. The truth - the difficult truth - is that we often must often endure hardship if anything good is to come. Great athletes must endure difficult and sometimes painful workouts for prolonged periods of time to be the best at their sport. Great companies require that their visionaries work long and difficult hours, waving off naysayers and giving up their leisure time to see their visions fulfilled. Great countries must sacrifice their young sons and daughters to fight for freedom or give up countless resources to those in need throughout the world. Great saints like Mother Theresa give up all their worldly desires to take care of people who cannot take care of themselves. Greatness and great goodness come from hardship. The sweetest things in our lives are those things we work and suffer the hardest for.
Our peace and joy cannot come from satisfying our immediate earthly desires, they can only come from stepping outside ourselves and embracing that which we were destined. Joy and peace can only come if we live out that which God intends for our lives and what God intends for every moment of our lives. It takes faith and trust in the God who created us for a purpose. For that purpose to be fulfilled, we first must come the conclusion that our lives are not our own. It is when we try to determine our own destiny, that our lives become confused and seem to have no purpose.
Jeremiah the prophet understood this. He was persecuted and shunned for telling this truth. Jeremiah explained to the people of Judah they were enduring great difficulty for a reason. The people of Judah had just been conquered and exiled by the Babylonians. They were questioning their purpose and they were questioning God. How could God who had promised them the land of Israel, the land of Canaan where their forefathers were led through the desert for 40 years, from Egypt; how could God take it all away? Had God gone against the covenant? If you read the book of Jeremiah you will come to see that it was not God who had gone against his promise, it was the nation of Judah, the southern nation of the Israelites that had forgotten their law and had taken things into their own hands rather than relying on and trusting God to provide what they needed in order to prosper. Jeremiah had warned the people of Judah that if they did not turn away from their alliance with Egypt who was to protect them, and if they did not turn away from their false idols, their nation would be destroyed. It would take this difficult experience for them to recognize the true source of their lives; the one and true God whom they had turned from.
Now in exile, Jeremiah is telling the Jews in our first reading today, they will have a new covenant. But it is not really new, it is renewed. It is not something that will take place at some future time, it had already taken place, they just had not recognized it. What did God promise in this renewed covenant? According to Jerimiah, the law was to be written on their hearts. What did Jeremiah mean … that the law would be written on their hearts?
From the moment of conception, God instills something in each of us. We can call it the law if we want to, but it is not a law like a civil law that prohibits us from doing something. It is more like an inclination, a desire. Maybe a good word for this law is, it is a longing. Each one of us is given a purpose, a longing in life. This purpose is the law that Jeremiah is talking about. It is something that if we look deeply within us, without the distractions of this world, we come to recognize God’s purpose for our lives. To know this purpose requires us to pray and contemplate and discern. It is already within us. We just need to search deeply to come to that truth. When we find it, recognize it, and live it out, we come to great peace and joy!
Even Jesus in his humanity had to search his heart for his intended purpose. Isn’t it amazing that Jesus, who is God, nevertheless prayed to the Father? In His humanity, even he questioned the father’s will for his life. In our second reading from the letter to the Hebrews, it says, “Jesus … offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death.” In our Gospel Jesus says, “he is troubled now.” Why? Because Jesus in his humanity recognizes the suffering he must endure for the greater good. When Jesus goes to the garden of Gethsemane and asks that his cup be passed. He asks the Father to “take this cup away,” but only if it is His will. Jesus does not want to have to endure this suffering but out of obedience and out of trust in the Father, he is willing to.
This is our lives too! We all have a longing to trust in and follow something. We have an inborn need to find the truth. To find the source of truth. We find great comfort in believing that there is something out there we can hang our hats on. For us Christians, that source as we know, is Jesus.
In our Gospel today it says that Greeks had come to speak with Jesus. They wanted to interview him because they had heard that he had resurrected Lazarus. These Greeks were not locals to Jerusalem they were Jews who were born into a Greek society, spoke Greek and lived out their lives as Greeks but their faith was in Judaism. Bringing Greeks into this story is John’s way of saying that the news of the Messiah had spread throughout the world.
These Greeks, as we all do, wanted to know the Truth of Jesus. What kind of Messiah is Jesus? Jesus had resurrected Lazarus, but that was not Jesus’ purpose. Jesus had resurrected Lazarus so we could see the glory of God. Jesus’ true purpose was to go through a process that was difficult but showed the true nature of God. God’s nature is love. How better to show God’s love than to have his only begotten son be resurrected but only after suffering for us? Only after taking onto himself all the sin of the world; all the scourging, all the spitting and mockery, all the torment, all the heavy lifting of the cross, all the painful piercings of nails, all the denying. Jesus was being asked to take all this evil and transfigure it into a great resurrection where God the Father takes to himself all who follow Him.
Today, we have several people in RCIA, who on Easter Saturday night at the vigil, if it is their will, their purpose, will be Baptized, Confirmed, and receive their First communion. They will be initiated into the Catholic Church. Today we celebrate the third of three scrutinies. The other two scrutinies were celebrated last Sunday and the Sunday before. A scrutiny is a special rite, a special ceremony. We call these three rites, scrutinies because these people are in the process of discerning what it means to be Catholic. They are scrutinizing their life’s purpose. As a congregation we are asking God to show them what God really wants of them.
As part of the scrutiny we pray a prayer of exorcism, and there are a couple of options, but one of those beautiful prayers goes like this:
Lord Jesus, by raising Lazarus from the dead you showed that you came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. Free from the grasp of death those who await your life-giving sacraments and deliver them from the spirit of corruption. Through your Spirit, who gives life, fill them with faith, hope, and charity, that they may live with you always in the glory of your resurrection, for you are Lord for ever and ever.
In these scrutiny prayers, we ask God to take away any influences that the evils of this world have on them so they can examine their hearts with all honesty and know the truth of their lives. It is only in the truth that they can conclude what God wants for them now, at Easter, and for the rest of their lives.
All of us need to scrutinize our lives. All of us need to see what our true purpose is and live it out. When we do, the good news, as I have said, is we come to great peace and great joy.
Now is the time to prepare our hearts for the coming resurrection, not only of Jesus’, who’s hardship brought about our redemption, we also need to see that through our crosses, we too are transfigured, we too are resurrected into a new life in Christ Jesus.
In our Gospel it says that “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a grain of wheat; but if it dies it bears much fruit.” If Jesus is grain, if we are grain, we must die. This is not just about a physical death, by the way, it is also about dying to ourselves. Killing off that which moves us away from love. This means cooperating with God to kill off those things in our lives that bring about despair and loneliness. It means recognizing that our purpose brings about the kingdom of God. It is about living out the law that is written on our hearts, that law we sometimes call love. And sometimes love hurts and fulfilling our purpose is not easy. But in our sufferings, we bring about great peace and joy not only to ourselves but to anyone whose lives we touch. It is when we live out our purpose that we bear much fruit.