LL THREE READINGS from the Bible today speak of death and resurrection. However not all three speak of it in the same way. Some of them speak of death and resurrection in a metaphorical way and one of them in a very literal way. I’m sure you would know the answer if I were to ask which speaks of a resurrection from the dead in a very literal way. Since this is not a classroom, I will give you the answer and that is the third reading, the Gospel which literally speaks of Lazarus being dead and Jesus bringing him back to life again.
What about the other readings? In the first reading the prophet Ezekiel is prophesying how the Jews will return to their own land after being taken away captive. It will be as if those who had died in captivity will return to their own land and begin all over again. Now this did not literally happen, but the success of the Jews, when they return will be so great, that it will seem to have happened. Now the Bible here is not being false or untrue. We even have from official declarations from the Church that parts of the Bible are to be understood in a metaphorical sense. If that word metaphor is causing you problems, the thing to do is go to the dictionary. That is what I did and found that a metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them. It is figurative language, e.g. when we say a computer has a memory. Sometimes people will say they feel like a new man or person after they have had an operation. I know I did after my first by-pass operation, and it served me well for twenty two years.
The Responsorial Psalm: It would not surprise me that this metaphor of the graves being opened and the dead returning to their native land was the thought behind the choice of the De Profundis Psalm for the responsorial psalm for this occasion. That psalm, together with the Miserere is mostly associated with the Liturgy for the deceased, at least in the Traditional Liturgy.
The Second Reading: The second reading speaks of life in the flesh and life in the spirit. St. Paul quite bluntly says that if your life is in the flesh, then your life in the spirit is dead. Life in the flesh is simply another way of saying life in sin, especially mortal sin. Perhaps as children we learned that mortal sin kills the life of grace in the soul. In some respects we have to say that was a metaphor. But in other respects it is literally quite true. If we die with un-repented mortal sin we will not be able to live with Christ for all eternity. Believe me; I am not speaking metaphorically now. I am speaking quite literally. I sometimes wonder if children even in our Catholic grade schools are taught this anymore. I know it doesn’t fit in with some people’s notion of a ‘lovey-dovey’ Jesus. Yes Jesus is as kind and merciful as one could ever find. But when we confess our sins, He at least expects that we try to avoid sin in the future. Now how can people who are living in a sinful life-style, for example an invalid marriage or a same-sex marriage, say or convince themselves that they have a firm purpose of amendment, or put in simpler language that they are going to try and not sin again? Words must mean something different to them than they mean in the dictionary! Not even the Pope can dispense someone from having a firm purpose of amendment. Or to use the language in St. Paul’s epistle selection, not even the Pope can give someone permission “to live according to the flesh.” Fortunately everyone has the means at their disposal to come back to life again, at least spiritually.
The Gospel: St. Augustine points out that there are only three recorded instances when Christ brought someone back to life: 1) the daughter of Jairus; 2) the son of the widow of Maim; and 3) Lazarus, brother of Mary & Martha. Countless are the ones whom Christ brought back to life from spiritual death and in some respects these are even greater miracles. Had our Lord succeeded in effecting a change of heart in many of His enemies that probably would have been a greater miracle than bringing Lazarus back to life. These people had possibly witnessed some of our Lord’s miracles, for example the multiplication of the loaves and fish. More than likely they had heard of His cures, his raising of Lazarus from the dead, or the daughter of Jairus. And yet they simply would not believe. Spiritual writers say that was the reason He did not appear to them after the Resurrection. They still would not have believed; it just would have made their sin worse.
As I have often had reason to say: We are not here to judge others, but to examine and change our own lives. Are there any areas where we might have some hardness of heart? Maybe it isn’t in real serious matters. But it may well be something that we would prefer not to take to the grave with us. Now is the time to get rid of it. Tomorrow may be too late!
We hope you enjoyed this homily by Fr. Valentine Young, OFM.