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- Practicing Faithfulness




Written By Susan Hanson

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” —John 11: 21-23

I was beside myself with worry. An A student, I was nonetheless about to fail my first semester of biology—or so I was convinced. I had studied for hours, found a tutor, done everything I could think of to do. And still I didn’t get it. Desperate, I went to see my professor, imploring him for advice.

“You’ll do fine,” he said nonchalantly. “You’ll make an A.” I was incredulous. Didn’t he understand? I was failing. How could everything possibly be “fine”? Ever?

In the end his prediction proved partially true: I came out with a B in the course. And it was, indeed, fine.

I can’t read the story of the raising of Lazarus without thinking of this experience. Jesus gets word that one of his best friends is not only ill, but close to death. I’m sure the man’s sister, Mary, believed that Jesus would drop whatever he was doing and come immediately. After all, Lazarus was someone he loved—and wasn’t love what Jesus was all about?

To Martha and Mary’s surprise, though, Jesus responds with apparent unconcern: “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” And then he proceeds to stay two more days where he is.

Contrary to Jesus’ words, Lazarus does indeed die. And, not surprisingly, his sisters are upset with their friend. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” Martha says when she sees Jesus. She may soften her reprimand by adding, “[E]ven now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him,” but my hunch is that her feelings toward Jesus were still pretty raw.

After more conversation, during which Jesus refers to himself as “the resurrection and the life,” Martha finally runs home to tell Mary that Jesus has arrived. Mary, too, greets Jesus with the equivalent of Where were you? You let us down

Moved by her tears, Jesus was “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved”—so moved, in fact, that he asks to be taken to the tomb and to have the stone rolled away. Then, after a short prayer, he calls, “Lazarus, come out!” And Lazarus does, still bound with strips of cloth.

The implications of this story are great. Not only is it the last straw leading to Jesus’ arrest, but it also raises difficult questions about the nature of resurrection. Was Lazarus really dead? If so, why did Jesus bring some people back to life, but not others? Will our physical bodies be resurrected in much the same way?

Important as they are, these are not the issues that interest me most. What intrigues me is the relationship between Jesus and his friends, and what that relationship says about God. When Martha and Mary question Jesus—even when they show their impatience and anger with him—he doesn’t respond in kind. Instead of leaving, as many of us would do, he stays with his friends. Both he and they seem to know that the bond they have can survive the feelings of the moment, regardless of how deeply they run. And regardless of how God chooses to answer our prayers.

O God, when I fail to understand your ways, when I call out to you in anger and pain, be a calm presence in my life, keeping me centered, keeping me at peace.