On The Human Tendency to "postpone" the Resurrection. A Meditation on Something Jesus said to St. Martha

072913In 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:

20 Replies to “On The Human Tendency to "postpone" the Resurrection. A Meditation on Something Jesus said to St. Martha”

  1. Thank you, Monsignor. Sometimes I get a bit panicky and lose sight of God’s current blessings. My elderly dog is dying and my estranged husband is stalking me, and sloth seems to be my constant companion. But with prayer, Christ and Heavenly Father will seem much closer. 🙂

    1. I am sorry about your dog, I just lost my dog of 15 years to cancer. Hard to take. I am sorry to hear about some of your problems. We have to ask God constantly for the grace of endurance to make it through at times. I will pray that God will give you the grace. Be well and have the courage to be happy in spite of it all.

      1. Thank you, Father LeBlanc. I’m sorry about your dog. It is so easy to rely on our animal companions. They are often so much nicer than people! When they die it’s very hard.
        Thank you for praying for me–that is very nice of you. I will have the courage to be happy in spite of it all. 🙂

  2. Thank you for the wonderful insight. Yes, we all do this in some fashion. I do.

  3. 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)
    Yes. I understand the ‘presence’ of Christ’s message: the resurrection that we seek is in the fulness of life that so often we deny in our sloth. But I also wonder about Martha’s belief in a resurrection ‘on the last day’. Does this mean that even within the existing customs of Jewish belief at the time, that there was a concept of ‘resurrection on the last day’. I didn’t realize that this was already part of the Old Testament doctrine which places “I am the resurrection and the life” within a New Testament context..

    1. “And many of those that sleep in the dust of the earth, shall awake: some unto life everlasting, and others unto reproach, to see it always.” – Daniel 12:2

  4. This topic is, and has been, the most confounding aspect of my Catholic faith for all my life. I can rattle off an endless list of things that I know I have a reasonable comprehension and full acceptance of. Faith, hope, charity, all of the Commandments, adoration, the mass and Eucharist, penance, forgiveness, trust in Divine Providence, mortification, contemplation of the sorrowful Passion, prayer, fasting, the four last things, the Beatitudes. I can go on and on. But bring “joy in the here and now” into the conversation and it sounds to me like another language with no direct translation that I can understand.

    To clarify, let me rewrite one paragraph above to fit my analysis of my current state. At age 48 my body is older than it was at 22. I am more serene, more prayerful, more aware of God and more loving of God and neighbor. I am much more patient, forgiving, and trusting of Divine Providence. However, I am infinitely less confident (in myself). My soul is stronger and more resilient, but more alive? I don’t even know what that means. Nor do I know what “more joyful” means. Neither of those would even enter my mind.

    I have some concept of joy, as in recollecting how it felt when my children were born. In fact, any minute glimpses I might have of real joy all involve my children.

    I should probably add that I am not complaining. I don’t feel particularly short-changed because I really don’t know what it is that I’m missing. Having one’s soul become more “alive” or experiencing “joy in the Lord” are each more of a curiosity to me. Like Data, the android on Star Trek, trying to understand humor. I’ve always just accepted that I would experience it in the hereafter. If I have a higher calling, I don’t know what it is. If I should have higher expectations, I don’t know what they should be.

    The only line that makes real sense to me in this post is the last; “pray for joy at what God offers and zeal to lay hold of it”. I guess that is what I will need to do.

    1. Is one is hard for me too, more at particular times than at others. I think that if you consider the times you’ve felt really close to God, really aware of His love…just that peaceful, safe, loved feeling, that that’s what we’re shooting for. And then consider what was different in your life the last time you felt it. For me it’s always been when I’ve been working really hard at getting out of my head in my pursuit of the knowledge of God and into my heart. Using intellect is mandatory to know God, but if you only use intellect, it can be a hindrance as well. Try to remind yourself that if God took His mind from you for even a split second, you would cease to exist. That makes you pretty darn special right here and now, and there’s certainly joy in knowing that.

  5. I love the Icon of the Resurrection where Christ has risen conquering hell and death, He grasps man and woman by the wrists (not the hand as if we are not even able to pull ourselves up) pulling them out of their tombs to raise them up also from death and destruction, to share in Christ’s Resurrection. I love that in the Icon Jesus is pulling us up by our wrists like children being grasped and pulled out of danger. I love this Icon of the Resurrection, it brings so much hope to me and I am sure others.

  6. Thank you for your insight – I have to remind myself all the time that I am so blessed, even when it doesn’t seem like it. I’m learning to thank God for my present troubles. Sometimes I get so weary… I know this isn’t the same thing as “sloth”. Then the Lord reminds me that I need to carry my cross as He did. I have no doubt that He is helping me to carry it, just as Simon from Cyrene helped Him!

    1. In re-reading my reply, I guess I feel the crucifiction – not so much the resurrection! But that’s not to say that I don’t recognize all of His blessings for TODAY.

      1. The last year and a half I have been through a trial of cancer, pain and complications in recovering with even more pain and feelings of panic with so much uncertainty day to day, week to week , month to month going on and on. And often, I couldn’t help the feelings of being punished although I knew I was not being punished which the Lord helped me to know through scripture and prayer but still the continuation of it all was hard to bare. Then the Lord brought me to a little booklet “The Way of the Cross with Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos” which was and is a great help, but especially on page 20 and 21 – “Jesus Falls the Second Time” and this is what it says and I pray and read this every night. Jesus helped me to understand my real “treasure in Heaven” can be gained here and now and none of my suffering is wasted:

        On page 20: There is a painting on the page of Jesus being cruelly beaten by Roman guards as Simon of Cyrene is stretching out his arms to stop them and Jesus lays fallen to the ground with His cross.

        On page 21 it says: We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you. Because by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.

        Let us Ponder: “Accept daily all difficulties and crosses with complete resignation and willingly. ‘For all things work for the good of those who love God.’… Our consolation consists precisely in that we have traveled the same road that our beloved Savior has chosen for himself, the narrow, the steep way of the cross. Especially, since we know that every single step is written in the book of life, so that these very sufferings will be our greatest treasure.”

        Let us Pray: Behold me, my beloved Jesus, weighed down under the burden of my trails and sufferings, I cast myself at your feet, that you may renew my strength and my courage, while I rest here in your presence. Permit me to lay down my cross in your sacred heart, for only your infinite goodness can sustain me; only your love can help me bear my cross; only your powerful hand can lighten its weight. O Divine King, Jesus, whose heart is so compassionate to the afflicted, I wish to live in you; suffer and die in you. During my life be to me my model and my support; at the hour of my death, be my hope and my refuge. Amen.

        1. This is beautiful! Thank you, and may God continue to heal you, comfort you and encourage you. I will definitely keep you in my prayers.

  7. “Why not become totally fire?!”–Are you totally fire, Monsignor? If not, then why not?

  8. At age 66, i too feel infinitely more alive, more aware, more loved and possess a certain inner dignity that i am convinced only Christ could restore. Joy? Yes!! Joy so intense at times it almost borders on pain when i feel my Beloved’s infinite love pour over me Alleluia! All my life i have suffered beatings, trauma, illnesses and deep deep pain. now through Christ, these old things have passed away. All that is left of me is love. i love Him to the very roots of my soul and being. So much that it flows out of me to others. i want to cry out to all i see “Oh look and see! Taste the Lord for He IS good”

  9. I think we often miss the joyful side of the Faith. We (or I) are full of fear… We are afraid of martyrdom (whatever kind it could become) and of being alone. We don’t have conFIDEnce.
    Reading Pope Benedict “Jesus of Natharet” 2, he tells how the disciples were eventually happy when the Lord ascended…
    In Mathew 13, 44, it says: ἀπὸ τῆς χαρᾶς, apò tes jarás, usually translated as “full of joy”, but literally “because of the joy he feels”, he sells everything he owns and buys the field.
    But we miss the point… We think we will be too much demanded, that the tasks, the commitment requiered by the Lord will mean heavy burdens…

  10. I apologize for interjecting myself into your plea to Msgr Pope. You are making this too hard. Often when becoming a new man, we try so hard we cannot hear the Lord. It happened to me. Trust this.. there will be joy in the morning! Go to either, though i am a Roman Catholic myself. my intuition says Roman Catholicism is where you should be, but that’s something you can decide later, if you find the Eastern Rite not for you. I am very proud of you for seeing the truth of the Eucharist in John. For there really is no other construct to be placed upon the words of Christ there. And i promise you, once you have your First Communion, you will know and feel the difference. Truly for those who are seeking closer union/communion with Jesus Christ, that daily feast of the Eucharist is truly manna. Hang in there. All will be well. Be at peace and know that God loves you beyond all anything you could possibly imagine..

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