In the Gospel of Monday of this week, the Feast of St. Martha, there is an interesting dialogue between Jesus and Martha. Martha begins by saying, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you. And thus Martha expresses her faith and hope in Jesus. But Jesus seeks to draw her out a bit and to get her to focus her faith in the moment. And thus the dialogue between them continues:
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.” Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life…(John 11:22-23)
In this exchange St Martha articulates a common human tendency to “futurize” the blessings of God. And thus when Jesus speaks of her brother rising, she says, as we all do in effect: “Yes, I know that there will be blessings for me in some distant, and future heaven.”
But Jesus interjects, saying, “I AM the resurrection.” Notice that he does not say, “I will be the resurrection.” In effect he says to her and to us, “I am your resurrection to new life now, not merely in a future heaven. The new life, the eternal life, the life of grace that I died to give you is available to you now. Yes, even at this very moment a whole new way of living, a new and transformed life is available to you.”
Yes Jesus is our resurrection. We have already died and risen with him to the new life he offers. St Paul says in Romans:
All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:3-4)
So eternal life is now. Surely it will be full in heaven. But it began at our baptism, continues now and, if we are faithful, continues to grow. The phrase “eternal life” does not merely specify the length of life, but also the fulness of life.
Of this I am a witness. At age 52 my body is older, but my soul is more alive than I ever was at 22. I am more confident, more serene, more joyful and prayerful, more aware of God and more loving of God and neighbor. I have seen sins put to death and many new graces and talents come alive. I am more alive at 52 than I have ever been before. And wait till you see me at 82!
And thus Jesus says to St. Martha, and to us: “I AM the resurrection. The life I offer you is now.”
Yet, so easily we can either doubt this, or even seek to defer it. Perhaps we doubt it on account of some struggles or suffering we are currently enduring. Or perhaps we are discouraged by a lack of progress in some area of our life. And so some of us in weakness doubt that the new and eternal life is now.
But our deferring of new and resurrected life is more pernicious for it is rooted in sloth. Too easily we can slip into a kind of excuse-making disposition that prefers to focus on our present limits than on God’s present gifts. And so we will think or say: “I am not responsible for my failings. My mother dropped me on my head when I was two, and my Father was mean….I am only human after all and I am going through a few things now.”
Whether they are true or not, focusing on our present limits and past wounds provides an easy out for the demands of our higher calling. For, if it is true that Jesus has brought us to a new and more glorious life and has set us free, with that freedom and life comes a greater responsibility and higher expectations. But all that is “too much trouble” and so we flee from it and prefer to see heaven and eternal (full) life as something off in the distant future.
This is sloth, namely sorrow, sadness or aversion at the good things God is offering. Rather than to joyfully accept the new life God offers, we draw back into the lesser but more familiar doldrums of mediocrity where excuses and lower expectations dominate.
To all this, Jesus says, “I AM the resurrection.” That is, “Begin now. Lay hold of the life I died to give you. Do not be satisfied with anything less that the vigorous transformation I offer you beginning now! Why not become totally fire?!”
St Martha thought of the blessings only in some future context. It is doubtful that she thought this merely in sloth for she was shocked and saddened by the death of her brother and not yet heir to the gospel as fully preached.
But we too often DO postpone heaven for slothful reasons. And like the Ancients Jews who often seemed to prefer the slavery of Egypt (with its fleshpots and melons and leeks) to the freedom of the desert with its challenges and responsibilities.
Again to us us Jesus offers this simple declaration and invitation: “I AM (now) the resurrection….Do you believe this?”
Beware of sloth and pray for joy at what God offers and zeal to lay hold of it.
And Now for Something really silly: