I wonder a lot about how the Gospel comes down to us in particular, pre-packaged forms. I wonder about how it is that certain semi-official versions of the gospel became semi-official versions; about how and when John 3:16 became the verse of the Bible; about how Thomas became merely “Doubting Thomas”; about how faithful Joseph became the forgotten man of Christmas; and about how Mary came to be seen as the true defender of the faith over Martha.
In John 11, Martha gets equal, if not greater, treatment than Mary. In verse 5 John records, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” It is to Martha that Jesus addresses the wonderful words of life we hear this morning.
Sometimes, all we can think about is Martha’s concern to serve in her household and the Master’s rebuke of her rebuke of Mary. But it is Martha’s faith in John 11 that is a wonderful example for us all.
It is Martha who goes out to meet the Lord, while Mary stays sitting back at the house. Martha has learned her lesson well from Luke 10 and now knew that she should go and greet the Lord and spend time with Him. She appears more like a Peter to Mary’s John, as she races ahead to meet the Master while her more contemplative, perhaps introverted, sister, sits still at home. But as soon as Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met Him (verse 20).
We might expect Martha to stay back at home, tending to the many homely details that no doubt needed to be tended to concerning Lazarus’ death and the many visitors and mourners. But this time, having learned from the Master, she races to greet her Lord. Her ability to learn and change from her natural inclination is all too rare and an inspiration to us all.
I wonder how often, when Lazarus dies in our lives, we race to find and greet Jesus, and how often we stay back at the house, waiting for Him to call for us. When there is suffering and mourning in our lives, how quickly do we go and find the Master?
Martha comes, it appears, to question Jesus, for she says, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (verse 21). It might appear as if she is saying this with an accusatorial tone, as if to say, “It’s your fault that Lazarus died.” But her next statement reveals a startling faith on the order of Abraham’s faith by which he reckoned that God could raise Isaac from the dead and that was how he could sacrifice his only son.
After expressing her knowledge that if Jesus were here Lazarus would not have died, she adds, “But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You” (verse 22). Even in the midst of grieving, even at the point of Lazarus’ death, Martha demonstrates a remarkable faith in her Lord. “Even now, even though you tarried and Lazarus died, I still trust You. I still know that because You are the Son of God that whatever You ask the Father He will give to you.”
What faith! Reading between the lines, Martha appears to be asking for the life of her brother back. Jesus, reading between the lines, plainly tells her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha believes, but it’s too much to believe that God will raise Lazarus from the dead in this life, and so she expresses her firm hope in the resurrection on the last day.
And then Jesus, ever the Rabbi, takes his pupil even farther. Martha has learned that she should go and greet the Lord whenever He comes, for that is always the one thing necessary. She has learned faith in the resurrection and trust in Jesus as her Lord. Having been faithful in small things, Jesus shows her even greater things.“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Jesus teaches Martha not only that He can resurrect people from the dead but also that He is the Resurrection. He is not only the Giver of Life but is also Life itself. He is the source of life and the reason for life. He is the source of resurrection and the purpose and meaning of resurrection. After all, why be raised from the dead only to die again in this life? And why be resurrected from death in this life into a life that is not more than this life? Why the resurrection?
Because Jesus is the Resurrection.
Do you believe this?
Martha’s answer should be as wowing to us as Peter’s (I told you she was like Peter!) “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” Martha gets it. She knows who Jesus is. She believes not only that He is the Son of God and the Messiah but also that He is the Resurrection and the Life.
And she has learned this great faith through what she suffered. “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” This is what Thomas had said earlier, without truly understanding the truth he was saying. But Martha experienced it firsthand. She died with Lazarus, and even before Lazarus was resurrected, she was resurrected because she had gone out to be with Him who is the Resurrection.
When Lazarus dies in your life, even the little lazari that die within us each die, go out and rush to meet the Master. Let us also go, that we might die with Lazarus in the hopes that when Lazarus dies, Jesus the Life will come to us. Isn’t that what happened for Martha? And isn’t it what happens to us: the Lord tarries that Lazarus might die that we might be motivated to go out and meet Him when He comes. It is through Lazarus dying in our lives that we most clearly and intimately see Him who is the Resurrection and the Life.
Let’s vow today to do the one thing that is needful: to go out and meet Him, and having met Him, to believe in Him.
Prayer: Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay. In the midst of life we are in death: of whom may we seek for succor, but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased?
Yet O Lord God most holy, O Lord most mighty, O holy and most merciful Savior, deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death. Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts; shut not thy merciful ears to our prayers; but spare us, Lord most holy. I commit my life to You today; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
1. In what ways are you experiencing death in life? How has the Lord been coming to you in these circumstances? If He has been delaying in coming, how have you received this?
2. Put yourself in the situation of Martha and experience the faith she had, even, especially, in the midst of her grief. Then apply this to the suffering and grief in your life.
Resolution: I resolve to run to meet the Lord today in my suffering and grief. I resolve to ask Him to minister to me through my suffering.
© 2014 Fr. Charles Erlandson