If Only

Posted in: Homilies

April 2, 2017 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause

April 2, 2017
John 11:1-45
Fr. George Smiga

There are many characters in today’s gospel: Jesus, his disciples, Martha, Mary, Lazarus, and a group of Jews who come to mourn Lazarus’ death. But of all these characters, it is Martha who speaks for us. Because Martha expresses in one line a situation that is all too often ours, a situation in which we have lost something that is dear to us and we can do nothing about it. Martha believed that Jesus was a great healer and a miracle-worker, so she was convinced that if Jesus could touch her brother, Lazarus, he would not die. But Jesus arrived too late to do that. He came after Lazarus was dead for four days. So Martha says to Jesus, “Lord, if only had you been here, my brother would not have died.” If only Jesus had been there. But he was not, and now her brother was gone.

Martha’s words of sad resignation characterize many moments in our own lives, moments that could be captured in the phrase “if only.”  If only my son did not go out with his friends that night, he would not have been in a traffic accident. If only my daughter did not fall in with that group, she would not be abusing drugs. If only my father did not smoke two packs of cigarettes a day, he would still be alive. If only I had been faithful to my spouse, I would still be married. If only the circumstances were different or the mistakes were not made, this tragedy could have been avoided. But the circumstances were not different, the mistakes were made, and now we, like Martha, face a tragedy we cannot escape.

Martha knows our experiences of resignation and regret and she speaks them to Jesus. But it is good news for us that she does not stop there. Martha adds another line, a line of faith. She says, “Yet even now, I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Martha knows she cannot do anything about her situation, all the “if-onlies” did not occur. Her brother is now dead. But her faith in Jesus is real. So Martha hands over her life to Jesus. She says, “I know that God will grant you anything you ask.” Martha does not tell Jesus what to ask. She trusts him, and he does not disappoint her. In this powerful gospel, Martha moves from the resignation that nothing can be done to the recognition that God is still able to act. She moves from hopelessness in the face of death to trust in someone who loves her.

And Martha invites us to do the same. As we count all the losses in our lives, as we grieve over the mistakes we have made, as we fret over all the “if-onlies” that never happened, Martha invites us to entrust our lives to the one to whom all things are possible. She does not promise us that our beloved dead will come back to life like her brother, Lazarus. She does not suggest that all of our regrets will become happy endings. But she does remind us that there is one greater than us and that it is always wise to trust him.

Martha tells us that with God there are no “if-onlies.” There are only “not-yets.” So as strange as it sounds, it is right that we gather together all that is hopeless and seemingly finished in our lives and turn it over to Jesus, and then wait in hushed darkness for the first rays of light.

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