1,000 days.  He couldn’t believe it.  That it actually had been 1,000 days.  When he had started he didn’t think there was any way he could truly change his attitudes, his behaviors, and his perceptions about himself and truly be free of this thing… This thing he hated, but felt powerless to stop doing.  This thing he struggled with, although when he was truthful with himself he felt that was a lie… how could he say he struggled with something that he kept going back to doing?   This thing that the tempter’s voice kept numbing him with lies telling him- he was powerless to resist falling into this sin; that there were far worse things that other people were doing; that he wasn’t hurting anyone else – it was a private thing; that everyone was doing this so that made it alright, or at least understandable.

Thanks so much for stopping by to read my homily for the the FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT – March 26, 2023, for sharing it on your social media posts and your feedback and comments…  I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE.  May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing- Father Jim

For years he had gone from scrupulously going to confession multiple times a week whenever he had a fall to cease going to the Sacrament for extended periods of time because either he felt like he was using confession as a presumption of God’s mercy as he knew he would be coming back again confessing the same thing over and over – or staying away because he felt like a fraud whenever he said the Act of Contrition and got to the point where he promised to “sin no more.”

But over 1,000 days ago, before he was going to attend an important event, wanting to be in a state of grace for a particular Mass – he found himself going to confession again, and relieved to be spiritually prepared for this momentous occasion.  Even though he had been at Mass countless times throughout his life, this day, this Mass, he heard something and saw something different.  He encountered Jesus Christ differently this day.  Jesus’ voice, His presence was familiar for sure… but there was a newness, a seriousness that was most definitively different.  As he received communion and kind of got lost in prayer, he felt Jesus ask him some questions: What if you believed it was possible to stop falling into this sinful pattern?  What if you put more energy and focus into thinking something could be different as you have thought for years it was impossible to change?  What if you stopped doing this on your own, and truly let me into this area of shame in your life… and we worked together to put this sinful pattern to death?

He knew this sounded and felt different.  He could hear the tempter laughing saying “sure, sure, we’ve heard this before…you’ve gone for streaks of time, even months before, and you eventually caved before – and you will cave again.”   But his faith had come alive in a new way that brought a trust and vision where he focused on the day before him and prayed for Jesus’ help to get through this one day at a time.  And days became weeks, weeks became months, months became years… and now it was 1,000 days.  1,000 days are this out of the norm marker.  It’s easier to have a monthly reminder like the 10th of the Month or a yearly anniversary reminder like April 18th of every year.  But when you’re counting days there’s this daily commitment, a daily reminder that is incredibly personal.  And as the counter hit this monumental number, 1,000 days, he was humbled and overwhelmed with gratitude for God’s love that accomplished in him what he never thought possible and could never do on his own:  Giving him freedom and health, but even more, an intimacy with the Lord he had only heard about, read about but now knew intimately, treasured and defined him. This encounter with Jesus altered his vision of himself, and others, and God Himself.  He could now say that not only did he believe that God could bring life from death, but he had experienced it.

Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus has been saying who He is, and demonstrating who He is in ways that John calls “signs.”  Signs seem a more appropriate term than simply “miracles.”  Because when we call them miracles, they can kind of get us to focus primarily on the act that’s happening – like a leper being completely cleansed and restored – that’s a miracle and people are in shock and awe at how that person’s life has been changed by this unexpected healing.  Signs demand us to look at Jesus…  Focus on how this specific act points to something bigger about Jesus who’s performing the miracle.

John’s Gospel shares 7 “signs” with us.   Starting with water being turned into wine at the Wedding of Cana; a healing of an officials son; a healing of a paralytic; the feeding of 5,000; the healing of the man born blind (which we heard last Sunday) – and now today’s sign, #6 the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  The signs have all been escalating in dramatic impact, in importance.  Each of them left people excited, amazed, confused, and disoriented because they defied logic, defied people’s own life experiences.  But people still could distance themselves from each of those signs.  Try to explain these things away.  Chalk them up as mysterious, particularly for those who have little personal knowledge of someone being paralyzed or blind; or are comfortable enough that they have their own food and can get their own wine…

Death is something that affects everyone.  It’s a reality we don’t want to think about and don’t want to talk about.  Until it takes someone we know, someone we love and we’re forced to come face to face with death.

This is why this sign is a dividing line for the Gospel of John.  In incredible detail, John recounts witness testimony of people who attested to Lazarus being dead and in the tomb for 4 days.  And Jesus calls him out of the tomb, bringing Lazarus back to life.  There’s no missing the meaning of this sign.  The Prophet Ezekiel, who we heard in the first reading, centuries before Jesus’ birth spoke God’s word telling his people “you shall know that I am the Lord when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people!” Lazarus coming to life after being dead is a clear sign that Jesus is God.  That’s amazing enough and is a pivotal moment that now the rest of John’s Gospel will focus on the 7th and final sign, the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus.

But of all the details we find in this lengthy Gospel one that understandably draws the most attention is two words – the shortest of verses in the entire Bible, Old and New Testament: Jesus Wept.   Weeping is something else that we might not want to revisit, but is very much a human experience that we can relate to.  We recognize the intensity of the emotion that is reserved for things that touch us most deeply in our hearts and soul.  So hearing Jesus wept definitely catches our attention as something very human that we can understand.   It’s such a dramatic detail though, we can miss that right before and after we heard Jesus wept, Jesus is being described as perturbed and deeply troubled.

What is causing such raw, deep human emotion for Jesus?  As Jesus performs his most amazing of miraculous signs to date, these actions were noticeable to John and noteworthy to be shared in his gospel.   It is not like Jesus didn’t know what had happened to Lazarus, or what He himself was capable of doing and about to do.  It’s not performative like Jesus is just acting for dramatic effect.  And, as much as He has great compassion and empathy for Martha, Mary, and Lazarus – he’s about to instantly and immediately eradicate the pain and sorrow they’re experiencing. You would think He would be excited at the anticipation of this absolutely exhilarating feat He will accomplish and the happiness and joy that it would bring.  Why would Jesus weep and be perturbed?

St. Thomas Aquinas explained “all anger and resentment are caused by some kind of pain and sadness….” and Jesus is angered and saddened by death itself which was inflicted upon the human race because of sin… He’s weeping at the cruelty of death He’s angry at the devil and what he, his temptations, and people’s sin has done to unleash such brokenness, such destruction on humanity.

He still is.  He is still angry and weeps at that truth.  This is another reason that this is called a sign rather than simply a miracle.  The miracle is limited to one particular historic event:  Jesus raising his friend Lazarus back to physical life after being dead and in a tomb.  That miracle happened.  The fact that it’s a sign means Jesus continues to do that.  That he continues to bring life from death.  And He wants to do that right here, right now for every one of us.  He’s deeply troubled and weeps when He sees that there are things that undermine our lives of faith.  He knows the pain that comes from people, knowingly or unknowingly cooperating with evil.  He sees how many in our Church are almost zombie-like, going through the motions rather than joyfully embracing, living, and sharing His Gospel.

What is it that we’ve buried or that is burying us?  Maybe it’s something from our past that we’ve ignored and tried to pretend we’ve moved on from.  Maybe it’s something ongoing that we’re very much aware of: the selfish thoughts that have hurt, the self-centered actions that have caused pain, the patterns, the attitudes that have taken root that we tell ourselves it’s just who we are, that there’s nothing we can do about…  Whatever it is, as we enter these last two weeks of Lent, Jesus is calling us out.  Calling us out from the lies that diminish us, diminishes Jesus’ love and power.  Calling us out from those holds that the devil has on us to be unbound.  Jesus is calling us out of these tombs into the fullness of life.

What if we believed it was possible to stop falling into whatever sinful patterns plagued us?  What if we put more energy and focus into thinking something could be different as we had thought for years that it was impossible to change?  What if we stopped doing this on our own, and truly let Jesus into this area of shame in our life… and each of us let Jesus work with us to put this sinful pattern to death? May tonight be the day a thousand days from now we look back as the moment we heard, believed, and experienced Jesus bringing us from death to life.