Eternal Life is Now if you Believe in Jesus

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent Year A

by Fr. Tommy Lane

The raising of Lazarus was Jesus’ greatest miracle and like all of Jesus’ miracles what was important was Jesus’ teaching that accompanied it. In this case Jesus’ teaching is,

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. (John 11:25-26)

Martha professed her faith in the resurrection of the body on the last day, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24) But Jesus is saying eternal life is not something reserved for you in the future after you die. Eternal life begins now if you believe in him. Of course, the raising of Lazarus anticipates Jesus’ resurrection which teaches us about the resurrection of our own bodies at the end of time but what Jesus says just before he raises Lazarus emphasizes that eternal life begins with him here and now.

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. (John 11:25-26)

For one who believes in Jesus, there is a continuum between life now and life after death, “whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live.” Jesus did not just say he is the resurrection; he said he is the resurrection and the life. Eternal life begins now for anyone in relationship with Jesus. This is not the first time in the Gospel of John that we hear Jesus teaching this. It is obvious earlier when Jesus said, “whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life.” (5:24) Already in this life one who hears Jesus’ word and believes his Father had passed from death to life. We have heard the phrase, “hell on earth.” Jesus says there is eternal life on earth if you believe in him.

Many times throughout this Gospel Jesus taught how to begin enjoying this eternal life with him even now. To the Samaritan woman who came to draw water from the well, Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14) That water begins welling up to eternal life in us at baptism. Many times in chapter 6, Jesus emphasizes his eternal life in us through the Eucharist. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” (6:51) “[U]nless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” (John 6:53) “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” (6:54) Jesus is saying eternal life is not something reserved for you in the future after you die. Eternal life begins now for those who believe in him.

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. (John 11:25-26)

The pastor of an urban parish in continental Europe who did his graduate studies in Rome at the same time as me has told me of the difficulty in helping people now to enter into relationship with Jesus. In the past, he said, when you would mention Jesus it would mean something but now mentioning Jesus means nothing to them; it produces no emotional reaction. But Jesus did not come just to save us when we die; he came that we might have his life now. Eternal life begins now if you are in relationship with Jesus. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (6:56) During the Last Supper, Jesus emphasized to the apostles the necessity of abiding in him; “I am the vine and you are the branches.” (15:5) “Remain in me, as I remain in you.” (15:4) Jesus gives that teaching to the apostles in Mark from the very beginning of their calling as apostles. In Mark, when Jesus called the twelve apostles out of all the disciples we read that they were to be with him and to be sent out to preach (3:14) Their first duty was to be with Jesus. Then they were to go out to preach.

Jesus’ request for relationship with him - to abide in him (using the words of John), to be with him (using the words of Mark)- has meaning for all but in particular for seminarians. Jesus calls you to intimacy with him. Jesus wants you to spend time with him, to abide with him through the Eucharist, Holy Hours, spiritual reading, through reading Scripture both when we pray the Breviary apart from praying the Breviary, through the Rosary and all your other prayers and devotions. The first thing Jesus wants is you to give him yourself completely. Before you try to win souls for Christ, he wants to win you completely to himself, 100%. What is the point in trying to win souls for Christ if you are not willing to give him yourself completely? Jesus wants you before he wants the others whom you will bring to him. He called you because he wants you. If God is calling you to be his priest, think of how privileged you are. God chooses you. This is God loving you. Yes, God needs laborers in the harvest but God chooses you because he loves you. The call from God to us is God loving us in a very special way. Jesus calls you because he wants you. He wants you to enjoy his eternal life now.

Eternal life begins now for those in relationship with Jesus. Jesus is saying eternal life is not something reserved for you in the future after you die. Eternal life begins now for those believe in him.

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. (John 11:25-26)

© Fr. Tommy Lane 2017

This homily was delivered in Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

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