As with the Gospel reading from Luke on July twenty-first, we again in today’s Gospel reading from John read about Martha. Martha approaches Jesus with the same boldness as she had done in the last encounter when she questioned Mary sitting at his feet and allowing her to work all alone in the kitchen. This time the stakes are higher. Martha’s brother, Lazarus has died and Jesus was not present to help her and Mary in their time of need.
How many times have we been in Martha’s position? We felt that Jesus was not there when we needed him. Why does God allow suffering? Especially the suffering of the innocent, is an age old question. Part of the answer is that we live in a fallen world of sin. God does not bring about suffering but he does allow it because he loves us so much he is willing to give us the free will to reject him. The cost of our freedom means that there are consequences to our choices. Part of the consequences is that our sinful and hurtful choices do not just effect us, they affect not only those around us, but everyone.
The good news is that we are not alone in our suffering. Jesus with God, as God, sees not just the moment but the fuller context of God’s plan. In the midst of our suffering, Jesus helps to not only bring about a greater good, though it may take time to come to understand and see that greater good, he accompanies us in our suffering. This is true even in death.
Jesus came not only to comfort his friends Martha and Mary when he heard of the death of Lazarus, Jesus came to restore him to life, which would also be a foreshadowing of his own Resurrection, when he would not only be resuscitated as Lazarus, but conquer death and become the first born of the new creation. We need not fear even death, our own or our loved ones. Jesus has conquered death.
From the moment of the Wednesday of Holy Week, when my wife, JoAnn, and I heard the news that she had pancreatic cancer, we have been blessed with so much love, prayers and support from so many and above all, to feel the closeness of Jesus that Martha and Mary felt. We do not know the day or hour for JoAnn, but we believe with Martha, that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, that whoever believes in him will have eternal life. We believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that has made all the difference for us (cf. Jn 11:25-27).