Sunday, April 06, 2014

Raising the Undead (Rerun)


5th Sunday in Lent (A)


Sisters and brothers, do you like zombies? I know that there are people who like to watch movies about zombies. Just as there are those who like to play zombie computer games. As you know, there are different kinds of zombies. But the kind that you typically find in Hollywood movies have several unmistakable characteristics. For one thing, zombies are usually very ugly. This is because they’re actually already dead. So their flesh is rotting away. You can imagine what that looks like. Ugly and scary.

But that’s not all. although already dead, for some reason, zombies are still able to walk around. They’re not completely dead. But neither are they fully alive. Which is why they’re called the living dead, or the undead. Unlike normal human beings, the undead have only one reason for remaining in this world: To satisfy their desperate craving for human flesh. They’re always looking for something, or someone, to eat. Theirs is a totally self-centred, wholly flesh-driven, existence.

Ugly, undead, and driven by an insatiable hunger for human flesh. Quite a miserable way to live, don’t you think? And what makes it even more pitiful is the fact that the undead cannot die. At least not in the way that a human being can. They’re forever condemned to a self-centred existence between death and life. Is there any hope for them? How, if ever, can a zombie become truly human again?

As bizarre as it may sound, sisters and brothers, I think that this is the very question that our readings are inviting us to consider today. How, if ever, is it possible for a zombie to become human again? But to appreciate this, we must first find the zombie in our readings. And we do this by considering something that all our readings have in common. In each of them, we find people, who are already dead in some way, being raised to life.

In the gospel, Lazarus is dead in the literal sense of the word. Having died from an illness, he had been buried in a cave that was later sealed with a stone. Then, wonder of wonders, Jesus comes along, and calls Lazarus out from his tomb. Jesus raises Lazarus from his grave and returns him to the land of the living.

In the first reading, although physically alive, the people of Israel have suffered a political death. Their country has been conquered, and they’ve been sent into exile. Like Lazarus, they too have been buried. Not physically, but politically. Not in a cave, but in the faraway land of Babylon. Then, through the prophet Ezekiel, God comes along and calls them from their foreign tomb. God promises to raise them from their graves, and lead them back to the soil of Israel.

But what, we may wonder, do Lazarus and the Israelites have to do with us? Why should we bother about them? We are not dead. At least not yet. Neither physically nor politically. Not only are we still very much alive and kicking, we also live in a country that can perhaps be counted among some of the richest in the world. Why bother about Lazarus and the Israelites?

The reason is that the physical and political death that we find in these readings point us to yet another form of death. In the second reading, Paul speaks to the Romans about those who suffer from spiritual death. Although such people may continue to walk around as though they were alive, they are not. Indeed, Paul writes about such people in a way that reminds us of zombies. People who are interested only in unspiritual things, Paul writes, can never be pleasing to God. Another translation of the same verse renders it like this: those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Those who are in the flesh. Those who live zombie-like lives. Lives driven only by their own self-centred and fleshly interests. Such people are cut off from God. Although physically alive, they are spiritually dead.

And can we deny, sisters and brothers, that there is a fleshly, zombie-like quality to this modern society in which we live? Our whole global economy is built upon the production and consumption of goods at ever faster and cheaper rates. And a crucial part of this process is the exploitation of human labor. Cheap human labor. The cheaper the better. For example, I may not think much about it, but the new shoes or clothes or accessories that I buy at the store may actually cost far more than just the price stated on the tag. It may also carry the blood and sweat and tears of people working under very difficult conditions in some other corner of the world. Shouldn’t my own constant hunger for comfort and for consumer goods produced at the cost of the suffering of others remind me of a zombie’s ceaseless craving for human flesh? Could it be that our modern consumeristic existence is no different from–no less miserable than–that of a zombie’s? Isn’t this what Paul means by a life lived in the flesh?

And yet, according to Paul, we Christians should no longer be living like this. Through our baptism, we who once were zombies, have been brought back to life. And filled with the spirit of Christ. A spirit that gives us the power to do something that zombies cannot. When Jesus travels to Bethany in the gospel, he accomplishes two things at once. Not only does he raise his friend Lazarus, but he also makes the religious authorities so angry with him that they decide to kill him. By raising his friend from the dead, Jesus sets in motion a process that eventually leads to him being lifted up on a cross. And Jesus does both these things–the raising of his friend and the angering of the authorities–for the same reason. He does them out of love. At Bethany, Jesus does the very thing that zombies cannot. He shows his great love by laying down his life for his friends.

And that’s not all. Sisters and brothers, we too are numbered among the friends Christ. We too have been raised by him from the realm of the undead. And, as his followers, we too have been given the power to lay down our lives for others. Indeed, this is the answer to our question. How, if ever, can zombies become truly human again? By receiving and living in the spirit of Christ that we have all received at our baptism. The same spirit for which we prayed in our opening prayer just now, when we asked the Lord our God to enable us to walk eagerly in that same charity with which, out of love for the world, Christ handed himself over to death.

Sisters and brothers, in our own lives and in our own world, what will it take to continue raising the zombie in us to fullness of life today?

1 comment:

  1. O Lord of Life Eternal,

    So often, we live like zombies - merely existing or floundering around, living routine lives and floating from one day to another; from weeks to months to years...

    Yet, You have called us to live life to the full for You are LIFE ETERNAL and LIFE EVERLASTING.

    Lord, raise me up like You did for Jairus' daughter -
    raise me up from the tomb of my death to NEW LIFE IN YOU.
    for You are the Lord of the Resurrection and of Life Eternal.

    Lord, on my own, I can do nothing - Only You can raise me up and restore me to NEW LIFE in YOU.

    Lord, I long to live and move and have my being in You.

    Please come quickly to raise me up before I wither away...Amen.

    Seeing IS Believing
    8 April 2014 11.45am

    ReplyDelete

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