I’m Spartacus

Homily for April 2, 2017 (5th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
Ezekiel 37:12-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:3-7, 17, 20-27, 33b-45

Near the end of the classic 1960 film Spartacus, a Roman general confronts a group of slaves who have bravely but unsuccessfully rebelled against their oppressors.   He demands that Spartacus turn himself in or that his fellow slaves reveal who he is.  If Spartacus is handed over, he alone will be crucified.  If he is not, the entire group will be executed.

After a short pause, Spartacus (played by Kirk Douglass) courageously stands and begins to say, “I’m Spartacus.”  But before he can even finish, he finds that another slave has stood and said the same thing!  Then, to his amazement, one by one all of the slaves in the group stand and say, “I’m Spartacus.”  For his part, the Roman general is both confused and impressed by their courage. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FKCmyiljKo0

Today and really throughout this Lenten season the Church invites us to say, “I’m Lazarus.”

In our own ways, each of us needs to be resuscitated, brought back to life.  Like the burial cloths that bound Lazarus, all of us are bound in some way by sin.  It’s part of our human condition.  For some it may be revealed in a dysfunctional or abusive relationship.  For others, it may be an unhealthy habit from which we would like to be free.  For still others, it may be a soul-constricting resentment or personal wound that keeps us entombed in anger or depression.

When we celebrate the Sacrament of Penance and in a smaller way when we participate in the Penitential Rite at Mass, Jesus stands before us as he did before the tomb of Lazarus.  In our confession and contrition, we confront the reality of death around us and especially within us.  When the stone of our own dishonesty, rationalizations, guilt or shame is rolled away, it’s not going to be pretty.  Confronting something about ourselves that needs to change will surely mean having to deal with a stench of some kind.

Yet it’s only then that we are ready to respond to the command of Jesus to come out of the tomb.  Then we are ready to have the things that bind us to be unwound, removed and cast aside.  In the Sacrament of Penance, that’s what happens when we receive absolution and satisfy the penance we’ve been given.  It’s the prescription that will help us to grow more and more into the people God wants us to be.

Conversion isn’t a quick and neat process.  There’s always more to do.  The temptations to “live in the flesh” as St. Paul puts it (that is, to yield to our human vulnerability to sin) are strong and often admired or rewarded in our culture.  It’s much harder to “live in the spirit;” and if we’re serious about it, it’s a lifetime task.  But we can draw comfort and strength in knowing that it’s also God’s desire for us.  This, after all, is the God who as our Responsorial Psalm proclaims is kind and forgiving and offers us “mercy and fullness of redemption.”  This is the God who, even in our worst moments when we say, “I’m Lazarus,” is troubled in heart and weeps for us and who still stands before us, stench and all, and calls us to live again. +