5th Sunday of Lent | Year A
There was a man named Lazarus who lived in the village of Bethany with the two sisters, Martha and Mary, and he was ill. It was the same Mary, the sister of the sick man Lazarus, who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair. The sisters sent this message to Jesus, ‘Lord, the man you love is ill.’ On receiving the message, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will end not 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 heard that Lazarus was ill he stayed where he was for two more days before saying to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judaea.’ The disciples said, ‘Rabbi, it is not long since the Jews wanted to stone you; are you going back again?’ Jesus replied:
‘Are there not twelve hours in the day?
A man can walk in the daytime without stumbling
because he has the light of this world to see by;
but if he walks at night he stumbles,
because there is no light to guide him.’
He said that then said, ‘Our friend Lazarus is resting, I am going to wake him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he is able to rest he is sure to get better.’ The phrase Jesus used referred to the death of Lazarus, but they thought that by ‘rest’ he meant ‘sleep’, so Jesus put it plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there because you will now believe. But let us go to him.’ Then Thomas – known as the Twin – said to the other disciples, ‘Let us go too, and die with him.’
On arriving, Jesus found that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days already. Bethany is only about two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to sympathize with them over their brother. 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,’ Jesus said to her ‘will rise again.’ Martha said, ‘I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said:
‘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 the God, the one who was to come into this world.’
When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in a low voice, ‘The Master is here and wants to see you.’ Hearing this, Mary got up quickly and went to him. Jesus had not yet come into the village; he was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were in the house sympathising with Mary saw her get up so quickly and go out, they followed her, thinking that she was going to the tomb to weep there.
Mary went to Jesus, and as soon as she saw him she threw herself at his feet, saying, ‘Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ At the sight of her tears, and those of the Jews who followed her, Jesus said in great distress, with a sigh that came right from the heart, ‘Where have you put him?’ They said, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept; and the Jews 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 out 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 around 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 faith of Martha and Mary forms a strong theme throughout the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.
The act of faith made by each of the sisters was different.
Mary’s act of faith reflected her belief that Jesus could have prevented the death of Lazarus if he had been present. She expressed her faith in the power that she believed Jesus had.
Martha’s act of faith was more complex. She first expressed the same belief as Mary, that if Jesus had been present he could have prevented the death of Lazarus. Then she went further by saying that even though Lazarus was dead, she believed that God would grant whatever Jesus asked. After Jesus spoke to her about resurrection, her act of faith centred not on what she believed Jesus might be able to do for Lazarus, but on Jesus himself: “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world”.
In stressed and difficult times an act of faith will often be related to our situation and what we would like Jesus to do for us. Seeking his intervention for ourselves or loved ones is always an act of faith, because we reaffirm our belief in his power to intervene for good in our lives.
Martha’s deeper act of faith focused not on the situation with Lazarus, but on Jesus himself. It provides us with simple words which can lift our gaze from ourselves to Jesus: “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God....”. This change in focus will affect how we pray and how we perceive the situation which distresses or stresses us.
Martha made her act of faith in Jesus before he raised Lazarus from dead. The encounter with Jesus and his words about resurrection elicited this profound act of faith, not the miracle of the raising of Lazarus. There were others who believed in Jesus because of what they saw him do. Martha believed because of her personal encounter with him.
The same opportunity for encounter with Jesus awaits us if, like Martha, we go out to meet him.