Saturday, July 17, 2010

Martha and Mary, but Mostly Mary

This is the second part examining the Gospel readings about Martha and Mary in Luke 10:38-42 (busy Martha and listening Mary) and John 11:1-45 (the death and resurrection of Lazarus). If you have not read part one - go back and read it! It'll all make more sense!

Last time I took the first half and looked at how Martha learned her lesson of choosing the better part. After being corrected by Jesus the first time for forgetting to choose love, Martha came out with a stunning statement of belief in Jesus as the Messiah, in spite of the fact that Jesus had not answered their plea to come until it was too late.

After Jesus had tested her new, strong faith, and she passed the test, Martha goes to get Mary.

"When (Martha) had said this, she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, 'The teacher is here and is asking for you." (John 11:28)

Now, we have to use our imaginations. We often do in scripture, because it rarely gives all the details. That is one of the beautiful things about the brevity of the Bible - we have to play the scenes out in our minds.

So, now we have to ask ourselves, where was Mary? Why did she not go to meet Jesus? Remember her in the story from Luke? Mary "sat beside the Lord at his feet, listening to him speak" (Luke 10:39). Mary, who knew how to drop everything to be with Jesus, did not even stir from the house when a friend announced his arrival.


Martha is like an adult convert. Her faith was kindled late, but when it came, it came with zeal and fire. Martha has a convert's heart. Mary has the faith of a cradle believer. She believed from the beginning with a quiet assurance. Mary's faith never questioned, doubted, or wavered.

So when the sisters sent the message to Jesus to come quickly, they knew he would come. Mary probably smiled gently in the face of the grief of those around her as her brother neared death, simply because she was completely sure Jesus would turn up to be with them, the friends he loved.

Especially if Jesus were the Messiah, the son of God. God promised. Mary would have turned to the scriptures for comfort through the illness of Lazarus.

"O Lord, to you I call; hasten to me;
hearken to my voice when I call upon you." (Psalm 141:1)

"I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with all my heart,
for you have heard the words of my mouth;
in the presence of your angels I will sing your praise...
When I called, you answered me;
you built up strength within me.
Though I walk amid distress, you preserve me."
(Psalm 138:1,3,7)

"The Lord will guard you from all evil;
he will guard your life."
(Psalm 121:7)

"In my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me."
(Psalm 120:1)

Mary knew these words, and took them to heart. If Jesus, the Messiah, the fulfillment of all the Jewish people had been waiting for for over 1,000 years, were near, he would come.

Only he didn't. He could have, but he didn't.

Mary was wounded in a deep, personal way. She trusted without fear, and Jesus not only did not come, he was silent. No note or messenger arrived.
That is the pain of Mary. She who left everything undone to be with her Lord encountered silence when she reached out to him in her need. For Mary, the grief was not so much about Lazarus (although she loved him, and this grief was present, too), but about the silence of God. Her wound is a lover's wound.

She felt betrayed, in a way. After all, look at her - she had believed long before Martha learned to worship. Mary was the example Jesus used in order to teach her sister a lesson, for goodness' sake! Mary, sister of Lazarus, believer in Jesus, found that her faith was unshakable - until it encountered silence.

So, you could say Martha was successful - it took her longer to "get" it, but when she did, she proclaimed her belief firmly. Mary represents failure - she believed from the start, but found her faith to be much more fragile than she ever thought possible. Mary was so upset by the silence of Jesus that she could not even stir from the house when he did arrive.

I say Mary is a failure, but only a failure like the rest us. Especially those who have believed a long, long time. We know those scriptures, we try our best to live our faith. We even trust in trying times. But sometimes something comes along that will knock our world upside-down. We reach for God, only to encounter that silence. That terrifying echo that makes us question if everything we have professed to believe is really a lie, after all.
All Christians must face this test at some point. To believe without seeing, hearing, knowing. To believe in the face of silence. Many of us fail that test. There is a terror to that (apparent) emptiness that reduces us to rubble in a way trials and tribulations often do not.
Mary faced this silence, and stumbled. Yet when Martha comes to her and tells her Jesus is asking for her, she goes.

"As soon as she heard this, she rose quickly and went to meet him." John 11:29

Mary still longs for Jesus, in spite of her bruised heart. She goes to him, even though he is still not close to the house.

"When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, and said to him, 'Lord, if you had been there, my brother would not have died." John 11:32

I think this verse is quite telling, as well. As much as Mary longed to see Jesus, she was still hurt and angry over his silence. So much so that when she did reach him, she could not even look at him in the eyes.She fell to the ground in front of him, ashamed and overwhelmed by the anger, frustration, and abandonment her heart was full of.

Remember - upon meeting Jesus, Martha also said, "Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died." (John 11:21). While the words of the sisters upon greeting their Lord are the same, one gets the feeling that they mean two different things. Martha was merely stating a fact, a fact that was by no means a hindrance to anything Jesus wished to do. The words of Mary, however, pour forth from her lips as she hits the ground. Mary's words are an admonishment to Jesus, an accusation. She is saying, "Where were you? I called, and you did not come." They are the words from the Song of Songs, "I opened my door to my lover - but my lover had departed, gone. I called to him but he did not answer me." (Song of Songs 5:6)

This more than anything touches Jesus. He sees the people who had followed Mary weeping, and he sees his faithful friend, Mary, crushed. He knows her faith has been shaken.
"When Jesus saw her weeping. he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, 'Where have you laid him?" (John 11:33)

Mary's crisis of faith did not cause Jesus to do anything differently. He had already tried to warn his disciples that Lazarus would be dead, but that he would raise him up, to the glory of God. He also hinted at it to Martha, by declaring himself to be the Resurrection and the Life. So, plans did not change. Yet the grief of Mary moved him deeply.

The sorrow of the people around him moved Jesus to tears. "And Jesus wept." (John 11:35)

We all know the end to this story. Lazarus is raised from the dead. He is reunited, for a time, with his sisters. They are allowed to recover from their grief, and to witness the power of Jesus in a profound, tangible way. But eventually, Lazarus will die again - maybe in a few days, maybe 30 years from that day. But die he will. 

Mary also must reconcile herself to the fact that she, the quiet, steady believer, lost faith for a while, even if only a short while.

There is a popular thought in Christianity today that God wants us to always be happy. Always joyful- yes. Always happy? No. God never said that. Anyone who tells you that is lying, even if they mean it and are loving. We can never, ever separate the Cross from our lives. Nor can we stop those we love from encountering the Cross, themselves. Jesus did not spare his dear friends this experience. Jesus himself was not spared this suffering. How can we be? If we follow him, we will know the Cross. And sometimes the worst of it is the silence.

Not that God is really and truly gone. Just like with Martha and Mary, where Jesus knew what was happening to his friends, God is always aware of our joys and our pains. But he often has a much different plan than we do. We cannot see the fruit of it, just like Martha and Mary did not know that in the end, Lazarus would be returned to them, and they would get to witness a miracle, to boot!

The story of Mary and Martha is an insight to how faith can grow and be challenged. Martha and Mary are both challenged in their faith- at different times and in different ways. Both women both fail and triumph.

What a privilege to know these two dear friends of Jesus - Martha and Mary, women of faith.


Ang said...

Very nice. I REALLY enjoyed reading it. After reading the first part, I went to finish reading the story again and thought the same thing..."Jesus is going to raise Laz up but then he's going to die again sometime and they are going to have to deal with it." Eventually, we do all have to take up our cross and we have to be strong in our faith no matter what the circumstance. It is so typically human of us the viscious cycle we go through with God, but lucky for us he will always welcome us with open arms. Thanks for the writing. I loved it!

texasmom said...

I am so glad you enjoyed it! :)
I have been wanting to write about Martha and Mary for a couple of years now. I am so glad I finally was able to do it!