The Gospel account from Luke may be more infamous because of the encounter of Martha and Jesus. Martha approached Jesus in the midst of his teaching looking for support in rebuking her sister Mary for sitting at his feet with the male disciples gathered around him. Jesus not only did not do so but said that Mary had chosen the better part. Martha’s boldness is on display again in today’s Gospel reading from John read. Martha again approaches Jesus when she becomes aware that he has come close to their home. She does not wait but “went to meet him” (Jn 11:20). Martha’s brother, Lazarus had now been dead for four days and Jesus, who had the time to arrive before his death, was not present to help his friend Lazarus in his time of need.
How many times have we been in Martha’s position? We felt that Jesus was not there when we needed him most. Why does God allow suffering? Especially the suffering of the innocent, which is an age-old question. Part of the answer is that we live in a fallen world of sin and self-centeredness. 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 and each other. The cost of our freedom means that there are consequences to our choices which can be detrimental or beneficial. We are all interconnected so when we choose to act on our own apart from God’s guidance and the welfare of others, the damage that ensues affects not only those around us but everyone. On the other side of the coin, there is the presence of grace when we draw close to God and each other.
We are not alone in our suffering, especially, when we do as Martha had done. She went out to meet Jesus. Martha most likely did so not holding back any of the full range of her hurt and pain. The only evidence we have is her words that express her anguish. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (Jn 11:21). We can only see from our limited point of view, especially when we are in the midst of grief. Yet God sees far beyond our limited, finite perspectives. 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 experience, he accompanies us in our suffering. This is true even in our experiences with death.
Jesus did not come 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. The difference being that Jesus would not merely be resuscitated as Lazarus was and die again. Jesus conquered death and became the firstborn of the new creation. We need not fear even death, our own, or our loved ones. Jesus has conquered death for all of humanity.
I still entertain thoughts that JoAnn will walk through the door one day such that the last ten months has been my worst nightmare or a bizarre conspiracy in which she didn’t really die. I know that will not happen. I know that Jesus did not heal her from pancreatic cancer. I also know despite that fact we were not alone in our suffering. Many people drew close from near and far in many unique ways and Jesus was present with us each step of the way during those agonizing months. My heart is still heavy and still aches and it doesn’t take much for tears to flow, yet, I believe that JoAnn has risen to experience the greatest healing beyond anything we can ever imagine in this lifetime. I believe that God will bring about a greater good for me and our adult children because I believe with Martha that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (cf. Jn 11:25-27).
Photo: “True love stories never have endings.” – Richard Bach