Taking Back What the Devil Stole from Me – A Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

In today’s Gospel, we hear the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The story marks a significant turning point in the ministry of Jesus: it is because of this incident that the Temple leadership in Jerusalem resolves to have Jesus killed.

As is proper with all the Gospel accounts, we must not see this as merely an historical happening of some two thousand years ago. Rather, we must recall that we are Lazarus; we are Martha and Mary. This is also the story of how Jesus is acting in our life.

Let’s look at this Gospel in six stages and learn how the Lord acts to save us and raise us to new life.

I. HE PERMITS. Sometimes there are trials in our life, by God’s mysterious design, to bring us to greater things. The Lord permits these trials and difficulties for various reasons. But, if we are faithful, every trial is ultimately for our glory and the glory of God.

Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary, and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and dried his feet with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was ill. So the sisters sent word to him saying, “Master, the one you love is ill.” When Jesus heard this he said, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Notice that Jesus does not rush to prevent the illness of Lazarus. Rather, He permits it temporarily in order that something greater, God’s Glory in Jesus, be made manifest. In addition, it is for Lazarus’ own good and his share in God’s glory.

It is this way with us as well. We do not always understand what God is up to in our life. His ways are often mysterious, even troubling to us. But our faith teaches us that His mysterious permission of our difficulties is ultimately for our good and for our glory.

  1. Rejoice in this. You may for a time have to suffer the distress of many trials. But this so that your faith, more precious than any fire-tried gold, may lead to praise, honor, and glory when Jesus Christ appears (1 Peter 1: 10).
  2. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold (Job 23:10).
  3. For our light and momentary troubles are producing for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Cor 4:17-18).

An old gospel hymn says, “Trials dark on every hand, and we cannot understand, all the way that God will lead us to that blessed promised land. But He guides us with his eye and we follow till we die, and we’ll understand it better, by and by. By and by, when the morning comes, and all the saints of God are gathered home, we’ll tell the story of how we’ve overcome, and we’ll understand it better by and by.”

For now, it is enough for us to know that God permits our struggles for a season and for a reason.

II. HE PAUSES. Here, too, we confront a mystery. Sometimes God says, “Wait.” Again, this is to prepare us for greater things than those for which we ask.

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was.

Note that the text says that Jesus waits because he loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus. This of course is paradoxical, because we expect love to make one rush to the aid of the afflicted.

Yet Scripture often counsels us to wait.

  1. Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD (Ps 27:14).
  2. For thus says the Lord God, the holy one of Israel, “By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, in quiet an in trust, your strength lies” (Isaiah 30:15).
  3. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance … God’s patience is directed to our salvation (2 Pet 3:9).

Somehow our waiting is tied to strengthening us and preparing us for something greater. Ultimately, we need God’s patience in order for us to come to full repentance; so it may not be wise to ask God to rush things. Yet still his delay often mystifies us, especially when the need seems urgent.

Note, too, how Jesus’ delay enables something even greater to take place. It is one thing to heal an ailing man; it is quite another to raise a man who has been dead four days. To use an analogy, Jesus is preparing a meal. Do you want a microwave dinner or a great feast? Great feasts take longer to prepare. Jesus delays, but he’s preparing something great.

For ourselves we can only ask for the grace to hold out. An old gospel song says, “Lord help me to hold out, until my change comes.” Another song says, “Hold on just a little while longer, everything’s gonna be all right.”

III. HE PAYS. Despite the design of God and His apparent delay, He is determined to bless us and save us. Jesus is determined to go and help Lazarus even though He puts himself in great danger in doing so. Notice in the following text how the apostles are anxious about going to Judea; some there are plotting to kill Jesus. In order to help Lazarus, Jesus must put himself at great risk.

Then after this he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in a day? If one walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” He said this, and then told them, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him.” So the disciples said to him, “Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved.” But Jesus was talking about his death, while they thought that he meant ordinary sleep. So then Jesus said to them clearly, “Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him.” So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go to die with him.”

We must never forget the price that Jesus has paid for our healing and salvation. Scripture says, You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Pet 1:18).

Indeed, the Apostles’ concerns are borne out: because Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the Temple leaders plot to kill him (cf John 11:53). It is of course quite ironic that they should plot to kill Jesus for raising a man from the dead. We can only thank the Lord who, for our sake, endured even death on a cross to purchase our salvation by His own blood.

IV. HE PRESCRIBES. The Lord will die to save us. But there is only one way that saving love can reach us: through our faith. Faith opens the door to God’s blessings, but it is a door we must open, by God’s grace. Thus Jesus inquires into the faith of Martha and later that of Mary.

Martha said to Jesus, “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.” 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; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”

Jesus prescribes faith because there is no other way. Our faith and our soul are more important to God than our bodies and creature comforts. For what good is it to gain the whole world and lose our soul? We tend to focus on physical things like our bodies, our health, and our possessions; but God focuses on the spiritual things. And so before raising Lazarus and dispelling grief, Jesus checks the condition of Martha’s faith and elicits an act of faith: “Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe.”

Scripture connects faith to seeing and experiencing great things:

  1. All things are possible to him who believes (Mk 9:23).
  2. If you had faith as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, “Move from here to there” and it would move. Nothing would be impossible for you (Mt 17:20).
  3. And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith (Matt 13:58).
  4. When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied. Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith will it be done to you” (Mat 9:28).

So Jesus has just asked you and me a question: “Do you believe this?” How will you answer? I know how we should answer. But how do we really and truthfully answer?

V. HE IS PASSIONATE. Coming upon the scene Jesus is described as deeply moved, as perturbed, as weeping.

When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Sir, come and see.” And Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.” But some of them said, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?” So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.”

In his human heart, Jesus experiences the full force of the loss and the blow that death delivers. That He weeps is something of mystery because He will raise Lazarus in moments. But for this moment, Jesus enters and experiences grief and loss with us. Its full force comes over Him and He weeps—so much so that the bystanders say, “See how much He loved him.”

But there is more going on here. The English text also describes Jesus as being perturbed. The Greek word used is ἐμβριμάομαι (embrimaomai), which means to snort with anger, to express great indignation. It is a very strong word and includes the notion of being moved to admonish sternly. What is this anger of Jesus and at whom is it directed? It is hard to know exactly, but the best answer would seem to be that he is angry at death and at what sin has done. For it was by sin that suffering and death entered the world. It is almost as though Jesus is on the front lines of the battle and has a focused anger against Satan and what he has done. Scripture says, by the envy of the devil death entered the world. (Wisdom 2:23). And God has said, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ez 33:11)

At the death of some of my own loved ones, I remember experiencing not only sorrow, but also anger. Death should not be. But there it is; it glares back at us, taunts us, and pursues us.

Yes, Jesus experiences the full range of emotions that we do. Out of His sorrow and anger, He is moved to act on our behalf. God’s wrath is His passion to set things right. And Jesus is about to act.

VI. HE PREVAILS. In the end, Jesus always wins. You can skip right to the end of the Bible and see that Jesus wins there, too. You might just as well get on the winning team. He will not be overcome by Satan, even when all seems lost. God is a good God; He is a great God; He can do anything but fail. Jesus can make a way out of no way.

He cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth.

I have it on the best of authority that as Lazarus came out of the tomb he was singing this gospel song: “Faithful is our God! I’m reaping the harvest God promised me, take back what devil stole from me, and I rejoice today, for I shall recover it al1!”


So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go free.”

Notice something important here: Although Jesus raises Lazarus, and gives him new life, Jesus also commands the bystanders to untie Lazarus and let him go free. Christ raises us, but He has work for the Church to do: untie those He has raised in baptism and let them go free.

To have a personal relationship with Jesus is crucial, but it is also essential to have a relationship to the Church. For after raising Lazarus, Jesus entrusts him to the care of others. Jesus speaks to the Church—parents, priests, catechists, all members of the Church—and gives this standing order regarding the souls He has raised to new life: “Untie them and let them go free.”

We are Lazarus and we were dead in our sin, but we have been raised to new life. Yet we can still be bound by the effects of sin. This is why we need the sacraments, Scripture, prayer, and other ministries of the Church through catechesis, preaching, and teaching. Lazarus’ healing wasn’t a “one and you’re done” scenario and neither is ours.

We are also the bystanders. Just as we are in need of being untied and set free, so do we have this obligation to others. By God’s grace, parents must untie their children and let them go free; pastors must do the same with their flocks. As a priest, I realize how often my people have helped to untie me and let me go free, strengthened my faith, encouraged me, admonished me, and restored me.

This is the Lord’s mandate to the Church regarding every soul He has raised: “Untie him and let him go free.” This is the Lord’s work, but just as Jesus involved the bystanders then, He still involves the Church (which includes us) now.

6 Replies to “Taking Back What the Devil Stole from Me – A Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent”

  1. Thank you, Monsignor for these wonderful thoughts on this Sunday morning. I’m grateful for your blog posts, They have helped me have a deeper understanding of Scripture and Jesus. God bless you.

  2. Father,

    I was taught years ago that Jesus was perturbed because some of the Jews who came with Mary were insincere in there grieving. They were among the original Jews that the disciples said “they were trying to stone you, yet you want to go back to Judea.”
    More evidence of this comes in the following line where it says “some among them said, could not the man who open the eyes of a blind man, have done something for this man?” It is revealing that at this point, it says Jesus was perturbed again.
    Is this a viable interpretation, or am I off base? Thanks Father for your time.

    Bob O’Lone

  3. Excellent and enlightening – thank you for posting this article. God bless!

  4. Your references about our need to wait patiently for God’s timing are excellent, as usual, but I dare to share what I use when things seem to move too slowly and I know that I need a reminder to restore patience. Psalm 90:4 “A thousand years are to you like a yesterday which has passed, like a watch of the night.”
    At any rate as the mass was beginning, at church this morning, I noted the extra scheduling of the Mass of Reconciliation that was announce – due to the approach of Easter. Then the mass began and I kneeled, rather than stand due to a leg injury and the doctor’s orders to avoid standing on that leg, and the thought came to me of a video (which was on this blog some time ago) about God’s Laundromat. That led me to a memory of an incident years ago when I was working temporary labour and work was intermittent so that I had to stay in a shelter for a while. There were also a small group of street people who had got together because of a mutual love of their Christian faith and some skill at music. They would donate performances at (this Salvation Army) facility.
    I went to one of the performances, arriving while they were still tuning up. A song about Christ and how he had been exucuted for His (perceived) crime of “just to love” came to me so I frantically wrote it down while they carried on tuning up.
    The song had a very martial/military tune with it and when the band did there first song I waited until it was over and sang mine. The leader invited me up so I sang it and then he asked how long it took me to write it. I told him that it had just come to me and it was what they had seem me writing while they were tuning up. They seemed startled but carried on with their show.
    At about the same time there was a group, in the shelter, who were engaged in some business that was against the rules but staff was too busy to do anything about and, the gang was careful. The leader seemed to be suspicious of me (likely suspecting that I was an undercover informant because I never bought any of what they sold) Gradually they became harsher but, I noticed, that there was always a member of the band near me.
    After a bit the gang cornered me in an out of the way place but, the Christian band all showed all of a sudden. They stood buy me with firm looks – as if they weren’t going to start anything but were certainly ready to stick by me.
    The gang drifted away and, as a few days went by, I noticed the leader’s power dwindle as the members’ enthusiasm in following him grew lax. Then, two members told their leader that, if a fight was one on one between me and him well, the band members probably wouldn’t interfere because street rules were sometimes like that and the band had high ethics. The leader just walked away, I found steady work and a home away from that scene. THEN, a powerful feeling of YES! that God had seen the trouble coming and had given me the song to rally some of His soldiers (who were nearby) to stand up for me.
    By this time (in present time at mass this morning) tears of joy were flowing and members of the congregation were giving me sidelong glances. However I’ve been going to this church for just over a year now (since I’d moved here from another town) and knew that many had seen this before so, I carried on.
    Then it was tracking along with the mass while I also saw (in like what’s called “in the mind’s eye”) some other soldiers on a parade square doing excellent foot drill while crowds watch. The display showed their mutual co-ordination, unlike a group of unruly brawlers as their shoes shone and their buttons sparkled.
    Then, they changed and headed out to what they were training for. They switched to drab uniforms and combat boots, instead of shine and sparkle that could draw sniper fire. as they proceeded along rough ground that got their uniforms dirty. Nearing the objective, they had to get down and crawl through the low spots where water had accumulated and rotting vegetation stunk and fouled them. At mealtimes all they had were rations eaten cold from a can. For days they carried on until they reached and siezed their objective.
    Once established fresh troops were brought up to relieve them and they marched back to rear echelon where a great feast was being prepared. They were told that, before engaging in the feast they had to clean up. They emptied their personal possessions into secure containers, individually labelled and put their grubby uniforms into laundry bags. There was a big field laundry nearby.
    Heading to a shower setup they rushed in and started joyously scrubbing and shampooing.

    Even The Least

    Part of Him is at the right hand of the Father
    And part of Him is hungry and unclad
    Even as He’s at the right hand of the Father
    He’s also sick and in prison
    Will we choose to feed Him and to clothe Him
    Will we pay a visit to where He is afflicted?
    For as we do unto the least of these
    So, He says, we do unto Him
    When we see our brothers and our sisters
    Huddled on the cold, dirty pavement
    Do we see our Saviour there too?
    Do we open our hearts to the needy?
    Do we do as He told us to do?
    Or do we just go to church on a Sunday
    And cast aside our faith as we head out the door?
    Do we live a life that’s close to His Sacrifice
    Or do we fall for division – of the enemy’s, “Gimmee more!”
    Gimmee more of the worldly grat-if-i-cation
    As each nation shall rise up against nation
    Or do we store up our treasure in heaven above?
    As told by the executed One, whose only crime was to love?
    Will we pick up our cross and follow Him?
    Or choose, instead, to impress other people
    Who ask us to join their denial?
    And ignore the lake of fire that hungers
    Hungers for souls all the while?
    We have a choice to set aside pain
    As we join in love with each fellow man
    Building our church on foundations of rock
    According to the Carpenter’s infinite plan
    So, do we store up our treasure in heaven above
    As told by the executed One, whose only crime was to love?
    Do we break loose our chains of false, phony comfort
    As we reach to the Son up above
    Who was executed for His choice to just love?

  5. Thank you Monsignor, for this thought provoking homily. I felt so blessed to have heard your homilies daily while in the Holy Land and now I know I can come to your blog where you will give additional richness and texture to scripture as well as your thoughts as to live a holy life. Such a gift!

  6. Thank you Monsignor,I have read several of your homilies or sermons about the devil. As a baptist from a young age I am not teaching a group of women in a nondenominational Community Bible Study. My concern is several members seem to rebuke Satan and “banish him the this place.” Could you give me some scripture where Christians are given this authority? I found where Jesus gave this authority to the disciples and those who witnessed the ascension of Christ Jesus. Jude 9 reads “But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” Can you tell me what you believe? Thank you for your help.

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