Sunday, March 09, 2008

Those Who Witnessed the Raising of Lazarus from the Dead: Why Didn’t They ALL Believe?

(Fifth Sunday of Lent (A): This homily was given on March 9, 2008 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read John 11: 1-45.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fifth Sunday of Lent 2008]

Not too many people have seen a dead man walk out of a tomb—especially a guy who’s been in the grave for the better part of a week!

But 2,000 years ago in Judea—in a little town called Bethany to be exact—a lot of people did.

And yet some of them still did not believe in Jesus, the God-man who had worked this incredible miracle!

A rather amazing fact, if you ask me. It says at the end of the story (and here I quote): “Many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him [i.e., in Jesus].”

But “many” is not ALL!

The fact that some still did not believe is clear from the very next line of the Bible, which reads: “Some others, however, went to the Pharisees and reported what Jesus had done.”

And together they made plans to orchestrate our Lord’s death.

So why—why didn’t they believe? Or perhaps the better question is: Why didn’t they want to believe?

I say that’s the better question because all too often the evidence for something doesn’t matter to people. They believe what they want to believe in spite of the evidence, not because of the evidence. It’s like those who want to keep abortion legal in our country. You tell them to look at the clear and indisputable scientific evidence—the genetic fact about when human life begins—and they totally ignore it. They simply don’t want to believe that abortion is wrong, so they completely ignore reality.

Why didn’t these enemies of Jesus want to believe that he was the Son of God and the Messiah? Why didn’t they want to believe that he had the power to raise a man like Lazarus from the dead?

I think one reason was that it was easier for them not to believe! After all, if you really make the conscious decision to put your faith in Jesus Christ, you have to be willing to change. And change is hard—for all of us!

According to St. Mark, the first command that Jesus gave during his earthly ministry consisted of one word: “Repent!”

To repent means not only to say you’re sorry; to repent also involves making concrete changes to your lifestyle, in order to become a better person.

And it’s much easier to stay as you are, sins and all.

Another reason they didn’t want to believe in Jesus might have had something to do with their pride. I say that because no one in his right mind likes to admit that he’s been wrong about something—or about someone. We all like to think we are perfect judges when it comes to the character of other human beings. But if these men and women were ever going to say, “Yes, I now believe that Jesus is the anointed one of God,” they also had to be willing to say, in sincere humility, “I was dead wrong about him in the past, and I admit it. I thought Jesus was a fake, a charlatan; for awhile I even thought he was in league with the devil. What a fool I was!”

And that also would have been hard for them to do.

Or perhaps it was peer pressure that kept them from wanting to put their faith in our Lord. It says that some of them went immediately to the Pharisees after witnessing this miracle. Was that because they were friendly with the Pharisees? That’s a very real possibility. Was it because they all hung out at the same synagogues and in the same marketplaces?

If they socialized or fraternized with other people who had already condemned Jesus as a Jewish heretic and blasphemer (as the Pharisees had), chances are they would have felt a lot of pressure to think the same way, and to pronounce the same verdict on our Lord—in spite of what they saw that day when Lazarus walked out of the tomb!

Let’s face it, we all want our peers to like us, and to think that we’re really nice and really smart—and that can sometimes cause us to say that we don’t believe what we know we should believe.

And then there’s the persecution factor: “If Jesus has so many enemies, what will happen to me if I say I believe in him? Will his enemies become my enemies? Will the people who want to harm him, now want to harm me—and my family?” That might have been a pressing issue for some of them.

Which leads to the last reason I’ll share as to why these men and women might have hesitated to believe in Jesus after the raising of Lazarus from the dead: the fear of earthly loss. The Bible says that the love of money is the root of all evil. It’s amazing how quickly people will say they believe something if there’s a material benefit attached to it. It’s also amazing how quickly they’ll radically change their “belief” for fear of losing some material advantage. Politicians do this all the time—especially during election years!

I’m sure most of you have heard the joke about the 3 men who went to interview for a job one day. This makes the point quite well, I think. The interviewer asked the first man, “What’s 2+2?” He answered, “4.” The interviewer asked the second man, “What’s 2+2?” He answered, “4.” Then the third man came in. The interviewer said, “What’s 2+2?” He responded, “It’s whatever the boss says it is.”

Sadly, according to the story, the third guy is the one who got the job!

Perhaps these people in Bethany thought that they’d lose their jobs if they said they now believed in Jesus. If they were merchants, maybe they feared that some of their clients would take their business elsewhere. Those are both very real possibilities.

There’s an old saying: “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” We live in a world that’s different in many respects from the world of first century Bethany, where this last miracle of Jesus took place.

But human nature is still the same.

In spite of the evidence that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world—which is even greater now than it was in the first century; in spite of all that, the pressures to disbelieve and to follow another path are exactly the same today as they were back then. I hope this homily has made that clear.

May the grace of God help us all to overcome those pressures, and have a strong and unwavering faith in Jesus.