I don’t like being blown off. I mean sometimes life happens and people have to change their plans. Of course. Sometimes crises happen. But sometimes people are just unreliable and whatever catches their eye at the moment seems more important than the plans they had made with me. And that makes me angry. And sometimes I’m the one having a crisis and I expect that people will drop other things to help me.
Fortunately, Jesus will always be there when we need him, right? Well, of course we’re supposed to say yes, but it sure doesn’t always feel that way. In this Sunday’s gospel, Mary and Martha and Lazarus are good friends of Jesus. And then Lazarus gets sick. Very sick. Dangerously sick. Mary and Martha send word to Jesus for help. “Lord, the one you love is ill.” This is crisis time. Of course Jesus will drop everything and come to help them. This is Jesus. You can always count on Jesus.
Except he doesn’t.
|St. Lazarus between Martha and Mary |
Maestro de Perea - Public Domain,
He waits for two days before heading to Bethany. What was he doing? What was so important that he didn’t go straight to Bethany? The Gospel doesn’t say. But Jesus waits for two days before going to his friends who were begging for his help. By that point Lazarus is already dead. By the time Jesus finally shows up, Lazarus has been dead for four days. They needed Jesus and he didn’t show up and now it’s too late.
Jewish mourning customs involve a very quick burial and then a week of mourning afterwards, when the community gathers around to support and care for the grieving family. Jesus shows up when that week of mourning is more than half over. Too little, too late.
The sisters know this and they’re angry. Mary doesn’t even come out to meet him. Martha does, and gives him a piece of her mind. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
|Resurrection of Lazarus|
Giovanni di Paolo - Public Domain
He walks Martha through a conversation on the Resurrection and she sends for her sister. Mary too has something to say to Jesus. “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” What is the point of being close to Jesus if he isn’t there when you most need him?
But Jesus has something else in mind. Now he’s going to work his greatest miracle, he’s going to demonstrate the glory of God and show that he has been sent by his father, in front of all these angry, hurting, grieving people he calls out to this man who has been dead for days “Lazarus, come out!” And he does. They unbind him from his burial cloths and he is free and alive and many people believe in Jesus.
So that’s terrific, right? Mary and Martha were wrong to doubt him, you can always count on Jesus he will always be there when you need him. The only reason he didn’t come when Lazarus was sick was because he had something even better in store. And really they only had to wait four days, that isn’t so bad. Trust in Jesus and he’ll make everything work out!
Except that isn’t quite the end of the story. Because in the next chapter we learn that the chief priests were none too happy about so many people coming to believe in Jesus so they plotted to kill Lazarus. They needed to get this walking talking testament to Jesus’ power out of the way. Get him back in the grave. The Gospel doesn’t say whether their plot was successful, but usually when the chief priests plotted to kill someone they managed to end up doing it.
And this time he stayed dead. Jesus did not come back to work his miracle again. This time his grieving sisters would have to wait for the resurrection on the last day.
Sometimes in our most difficult times we can palpably feel God’s comforting presence. Sometimes things just seem to work themselves out in ways that feel almost miraculous. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes Lazarus stays dead. And Jesus seems to taking his sweet time doing who-knows-what before coming to you in your pain and fear and grief.Martha knew the answer though, even in the midst of her grief. Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” In between now and then, all sorts of things can happen. Maybe things will work out for the best or maybe they will be as bad as they can be. Maybe we will be able to sense God’s comforting presence or maybe he will seem a million miles away. But we know how the story ends, and whatever we have to endure along the way, we know that we will rise in the resurrection on the last day.
Kristen Filipic has been involved with the Pauline family since 2010 and completed the Cooperator Formation program in 2014. She is a native Midwesterner but has lived in Boston for the last twelve years, where she works as a civil rights attorney. She serves as a lector and a Bible study leader in her home church.