Deacon Jerry Franzen Cathedral - March 25, 2012
A missionary came to serve a tribe in the jungles of South America.
He noticed that many of the tribe were ill.
He knew that there was a clinic across the river.
Simple, take the sick to the clinic.
But he found that there was a great resistance to going to the clinic.
At first he thought they were afraid of the clinic,
but he found out that the real problem was the river.
They believed that it harbored evil spirits,
that would attack them as they crossed.
How would he convince the natives that the river was safe?
First, he brought them to the river’s edge,
and tried to explain that there was no danger,
no evil spirits.
A few took his word, but most would have none of his explanation.
He then bent over and splashed his hand in the water.
Certainly that would convince them; a few more went along.
Water on their hands, no problem.
Being in the water or being in a situation
that might put them into the water like from a boat,
that was a major problem.
The missionary waded into the water up to his waist;
surely the natives would see that he was safe
even though they could not see him below the waist.
But most remained afraid of the deeper water.
So the missionary took his last shot, he dove into the river
and swam underwater
and emerged alive and well on the other side.
The natives could see him.
They could see that he had survived the underwater trip.
Many more were now convinced
that the river was not filled with evil spirits
and many were finally encouraged to risk the crossing.
The missionary used a series of increasingly more pronounced signs.
He tried explanation, then touching the water,
then standing in the water
and finally submerging himself to get the point across.
The readings at Mass are on a three-year cycle: Year A, B and C.
We have been in the midst of Year B
since the first Sunday in Advent,
but today you heard the readings from year A.
That is because we use the readings from Year A,
when we celebrate the scrutinies with the elect.
Today we are celebrating the third scrutiny with the elect.
The A Gospel readings for the three scrutinies,
include the following stories:
First Scrutiny – Jesus meets the woman at the well.
Second Scrutiny – Jesus cured the man born blind.
Third Scrutiny – Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.
In this series of Gospel readings,
Jesus can be seen as doing much the same as the missionary,
using a series of signs to get across a message,
signs that become ever-more pronounced.
First there was the minor miracle of reading the mind
of the woman at the well.
You might recall that she told Jesus that she had no husband,
And Jesus told her that in fact she had had five husbands
and the man she was living with now was indeed
not her husband.
we heard about the more miraculous cure of the blind man,
and today the ultimate miracle
of raising Lazarus from the dead.
In each instance the faith of the person or persons
interacting with Jesus was affected.
The woman at the well accepted Jesus as the Messiah.
Her faith was so strengthened,
that she went back to her village
to spread the Good News about the man,
Jesus, the Messiah, she had met at the well.
When Jesus identified himself to the man born blind,
the man said, "I do believe, Lord."
His faith was strengthened.
In Today’s Gospel, there was little doubt that Lazarus was dead.
He had been dead for four days.
And again faith was tested.
The disciples wondered how Jesus,
the one who claimed to be the Messiah
could lead them back to Judea,
a place where there could be trouble?
Martha and Mary did not understand how Jesus,
the Christ, could let their brother die
and be buried for four days,
when He could have saved Lazarus had he been there.
The Jews might have wondered:
Could this really be the Son of Man, the Messiah,
who is perturbed by a few non-believers
and who breaks down and cries at the loss of a friend?
Would the Son of God endure the stench of the tomb
of a person dead for four days?
We have had three consecutive weeks of signs,
of testing, probing, examining,
three weeks of scrutiny in order to test faith
and to strengthen faith.
On each of these three consecutive Sundays
we have celebrated this process of scrutiny
with the elect of our parish.
Yes, I say "WE celebrate",
because by this process our faith in Jesus Christ
is also being examined and strengthened.
Today our scrutiny might take the following form:
Are we ready to follow Jesus
to those spots which are comfortable?
Jesus befriended a woman
who could have been stoned to death for her immoral behavior.
He befriended a blind man who was considered to be a sinner.
And today, Jesus took on death.
We won't be "stoned" to death or labeled a sinner
because we may hold views counter to the accepted culture,
but we might be insulted, ignored or shunned,
because we hold to Christian principles.
It could mean speaking out against violence and war
or working to abolish abortion.
In Lent we must be about the business of finding out
just where we are spiritually.
Since this is the time for scrutiny,
each of us must check up on where we stand
in our relationship with the Lord.
Following Jesus might mean
volunteering at an agency that aids the poor and homeless,
or reaching out to an alienated family member,
or digging deeper to support the Diocesan \ Parish Annual Appeal,
or working to remove from our life that one sin that plagues us.
God has endured the stench of our sin.
He is calling us, like Lazarus, from the tomb of our death in sin.
Let us roll away the stones that trap us.
Where do we stand?
How are we responding to the call to continuing conversion?
The missionary went to the point of standing in the river;
with the raising of Lazarus, Jesus did the equivalent.
The missionary found it necessary go further,
to endure the depths of the river.
In today's gospel, Jesus is preparing to take the next step,
to endure the depths of our death.
At the Easter Vigil,
the elect will enter into the water of Baptism
and come out on the other side,
having been freed of the grip of evil.
Tonya, our elect, is in the final stages of preparing for this next step.
We must all be preparing to do the same,
to take the final step - to rise
like Lazarus and with Jesus from the tomb.