Memorial of Saint Martha

Lectionary: 405/607

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and anyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?”
She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”

The death of her brother Lazarus critically assaulted Martha's faith in Jesus. Believing like any believer, she had made many sacrifices for Jesus' sake; and like any believer she expected certain benefits that come with faith. 

The Bible is chock-full of promises to those who believe in God. These are not simply magical promises; they make sense. One who lives by the Law of God has more common sense than those who don't. Happy to comply with God's clear teachings about the good life, the devout person abstains from foolish behavior and comports herself by the teachings of the wise. The books of Proverbs, Ecclesiasticus and Wisdom plus many of the psalms, which we sing often, give us practical advice on daily living. 

These "wisdom books" also tell us the foolish can expect catastrophe and the wise can expect success, because the foolish are also wicked and the wise are just. 

Justice, of course, makes sense. Any reasonable person knows we must care for widows, orphans, aliens, the elderly, disabled and children. Abuse, neglect or exploitation of these person can only lead to retribution, which might come from them or from a Just God.

This understanding of reward and punishment, good and evil, wisdom and foolishness is just as obvious as the proverb, "What goes up must come down." That is equally true of arrows, rocks and wicked men. 

So when her good, gentle brother died, Martha was deeply troubled. She must have wondered, How could this happen to him and to me and to my sister Mary and to all the friends who have welcomed Jesus as our Lord and Savior? 

In this gospel we hear the edge of her confusion, resentment and grief in her statement,   "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." 

It is a statement of faith but it's accompanied by a challenge. 

Jesus does not apologize to Martha for his failure to be there when he died. In fact, the Evangelist has told us it was quite intentional. He had heard of Lazarus' sickness and delayed several days before returning to Bethany. He waited until Lazarus was dead before setting out. 

Rather than apologize Jesus restates his identity and his mission, "I am the Resurrection and the Life..." and asks her, "Do you believe this?" Although he has not used the word Resurrection often in the Gospel of Saint John, we have often heard him state he is "life." 

When grieving Martha affirms her faith in Jesus despite what has happened, Jesus sets out for the cemetery. 

In this brief conversation, Martha and Jesus remind us that every moment of our lives -- every thought, word and deed -- must be addressed to Jesus. He is our constant companion in grief and in joy, in success and in failure. We can hardly speak of "him" without thinking "you."

And that you is a word of confidence, "Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.