One of the first aspects we notice in this Gospel passage is Jesus’s lateness in responding. He loved this family – Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Yet his initial inaction jars with us. What was he thinking, and what about those whom he loved: what did they make of Jesus not responding sooner?
We read an answer in Martha’s comment to Jesus, when he finally travels to see them. ‘If you had been here, my brother would not have died…’. It isn’t difficult to imagine these words said with great emotion, with panic, with the most terrible grief.
Yet, Martha goes on: ‘…but I know that even now, whatever you ask of God, he will grant you. Even within this great hardship, Martha truly believes in the power of Jesus. And he gives Martha an assurance, saying: ’‘Your brother will rise again.’
St Benedict wrote in his rule for monks: ‘Every day, remind yourself that you are going to die.’ We follow this monastic rule ourselves, and this stark statement of our holy father St Benedict is a wise accompaniment to our way of life. It should be the same for every Christian. Yet some countries of the world are particularly unable to talk openly and constructively about death.
Our belief is that we shall die. Death is part of our life journey. Whatever mental firewall we put up against this, it is going to happen anyway. Even so, it doesn’t stop us grieving. Those of us who have grieved know the pain of Martha and Mary. Jesus, too, was struck with grief and we have an account of him in these depths of emotion. But we also believe that we shall rise again. The death of a loved one does not always feel like the story of the raising of Lazarus: it is starker, because we do not see that Resurrection. The worrying side, the unbeliever in us, suggests that we shall never rise again, that our loved one will just stay dead. But in today’s Gospel Jesus gives us the truth of his promise. He gives us a man that he loved and cried over, who was raised from the dead just days after he was placed in the tomb. This is not only a precursor to his own death, burial and Resurrection, but a close connection with what will happen to us. Jesus shows us that it is not just the Son of man who will walk out of the tomb into paradise, but all of those whom he loves.
This Gospel reflection comes from Mount St Joseph Abbey during an unprecedented time of worry, despair, and fear in the world. The Corona virus is killing scores of people, regardless of their position in life. Doctors, nurses, care workers and others on the frontline fighting this virus are themselves sometimes ending up on life support systems. Like in other countries, we are now in official lockdown, yet we are trying to stay positive, and most of all to help those around us who are less fortunate.
In the midst of our heightened sense of vulnerability, it is not difficult to start wondering ‘Where is Jesus?’ why doesn’t he come? Why this delay? Just like in today’s Gospel, though, we could take Martha’s point of view, and trust. The inherent trust of Martha proved itself true. We call this trust ‘faith’, and it is at these times when our faith shall be tested.
We might take today’s liturgy of the Word, and ponder what Christ is saying to us. How, for example, do we fit into that Gospel? Are we Martha? Do we show that same faith, even in the midst of such devastation?
And what do we answer to Christ’s question that follows this so well-known message:
‘I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’
Do not be in any doubt that this is Christ asking us the same question. As well-known as this passage is, let us read it again with new eyes and ears, as though we have never encountered it before.
We might also turn to the psalm in today’s Mass, with the words of hope therein:
My soul is waiting for the Lord,
I count on his word.
My soul is longing for the Lord
more than watchman for daybreak.
(Let the watchman count on daybreak and Israel on the Lord.)
Just like before, let us make these words our own. Let us count on the word of God, longing for him in darkness, and counting on daybreak.
The sisters Martha and Mary sent this message to Jesus, ‘Lord, the man you love is ill.’ On receiving the message, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will not end in death but in God’s glory, and through it the Son of God will be glorified.’
Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, yet when he learned that Lazarus was ill he stayed where he was for two more days before saying to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judaea.’
On arriving, Jesus found that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days already. When Martha heard that Jesus had come she went to meet him. Mary remained sitting in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘If you had been here, my brother would not have died, but I know that even now, whatever you ask of God, he will grant you.’
’Your brother’ said Jesus to her, ‘will rise again.’
Martha said: ‘I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.’
‘I am the resurrection and the life.
If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me
will never die.
Do you believe this?
‘Yes Lord,’ she said ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.’ Jesus said in great distress, with a sigh that came straight from the heart, ‘Where have you put him?’ They said, ‘See how much he loved him!’ But there were some who remarked, ‘He opened the eyes of the blind man, could he not have prevented this man’s death?’ Still sighing, Jesus reached the tomb; it was a cave with a stone to close the opening. Jesus said, ‘Take the stone away.’ Martha said to him, ‘Lord, by now he will smell; this is the fourth day.’ Jesus replied, ‘Have I not told you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. Then Jesus lifted up his eyes and said:
‘Father, I thank you for hearing my prayer.
I knew indeed that you always hear me, but I speak
for the sake of all these who stand round me,
so that they may believe it was you who sent me.’
When he had said this, he cried in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, here! Come out!’ The dead man came out, his feet and hands bound with bands of stuff and a cloth round his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, let him go free.’
Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary and had seen what he did believed in him.
The Gospel of the Lord