We're pretty well snowed in around here. Beve and I took the dogs for a drive--to mail a package, stop by REI, have a beverage at Starbucks, you know, only the essentials--and slid around the streets with the other hardiest of souls. The parking lots aren't even plowed, if you can believe it, and J told me earlier that our town actually sold most of its snowplows because we need them so seldom. Having grown up east of the mountains, in a place where winter means snow, Beve and I get a little cranky about all the western Washington wussies, who are afraid of a little white stuff.
But even for those of us who are used to this, even for those of us glad that we'll undoubtedly have a white Christmas this year, the snow (about 2 feet of it) causes delays. And we aren't a people who like delays. Sure, we can run late (trust me, living with the Beve, I continually have to learn this!), but if we're expecting someone, especially someone important, we're clock-watchers. When we finally see them driving up into our driveway, we're out the door to greet them, and sometimes (especially if it's a child we're waiting for) we even admonish them for being so late.
This is exactly the situation Martha and Mary find themselves in (well, without the snow, of course) when their beloved brother, Lazarus, falls ill. Already being in relationship with Jesus, having hosted Him just last week (maybe!), they send a message to Him, trusting that He'll come quickly, certainly in time to heal Lazarus as He had so many others. So imagine how they feel as the days pass, as Lazarus grows increasingly more ill and dies before Jesus arrives. My heart would be broken. Wouldn't yours? Meanwhile, when Jesus received the message about Lazarus, not only did He not drop everything and race off to save him, but He actually stayed where He was two extra days. He told those traveling with Him, "This sickness will not end in death but will result in God being glorified through it." The disciples, having seen Him in action before, thought they knew what that meant--another in a long line of healings by Jesus. So He has to clarify that this time it's different and that actually Lazarus is already dead.
Martha's ravaged with grief and a little angry (I think we can guess that Martha has something of a temper!) when she finally hears that Jesus and His disciples are almost there. She comes pounding down the hill to meet them, and I can picture her wanting to pound Him when she sees Him. Their encounter on the road is one of the most intimate and amazing encounters in all of the gospels. "Lord, if you'd only gotten here in time, my brother wouldn't have died." Yep, she's scolding Him a little. But even in her pique, she knows who Jesus is, what He can do, as she goes on to say, "But I know that even now (even though you delayed), God will give you whatever you ask." By this time, Lazarus has been in the grave for 4 stinkin' days. Can you imagine? Yet Martha has such faith in Jesus that she still thinks there's hope for her brother's life.
Jesus answers, "Your brother will rise again." And not surprisingly, Martha assumes Jesus is talking about the last day when the trumpet sounds, which is the most I'd be hoping for as well.
Then, as He often does, Jesus turns this idea on its head, by saying, "I am the resurrection and the Life." The resurrection of people is IN Jesus. What a powerful statement-- "Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die, an whoever lives by believing in Me will never die. Do you believe this?" He asks Martha. And she doesn't hesitate. "Yes, Lord," she tells Him. This Martha, whom we often look down upon because she hasn't chosen what Mary had, this woman knew Jesus to her marrow. Her response to Him is one of the high points of the gospels--Martha absolutely knew who Jesus was--she knew that He was God. "I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world." The confession every single person on earth must get to! It's so powerful that I get chills imagining the moment when I'll get to say it to His face!
We often look at Martha and put a whine in her voice, just as I did in telling this part of the story. We move on to Mary, who actually says the same thing to Jesus, "If you had been here, he wouldn't have died." And we think there's something different in her voice because when she says it, Jesus is moved by compassion. He cries with her. Don't you find phenomenal comfort in this moment. A moment when He's moved by Mary's pain? It's amazing to think that even as He knows what He's about to do, He stops to share Mary's grief. He didn't have to, of course. I mean, in a few more minutes, those tears of hers would be tears of joy. But she doesn't know that, and what she needs is the Lord who lives her reality with her. Isn't this the Lord we also need? The one who knows our whole story at once, but also stops in our chronology to cry with us, feel whatever it is we feel at any given moment.
But I think we need both sisters to get the complete picture. It's like we get head and heart together in this story. Jesus responds to Martha in a way that she can understand and relate to, rationally, by appealing to her understanding. With Mary, it's all feeling and emotion, how He responds. But the two together reveal the whole of this Incarnate God. Fully God--the Messiah, as Martha knows--and fully human--as Mary glimpses in His human tears.
And in the end, Martha's confession and Mary's tears walk with Jesus to the place He was always going, the place where His actions revealed both the Truth of who He was, and the compassion He felt. All at a closed up tomb, where He calls forth a man who had been dead. Not yelling, not cajoling, but calling Lazarus by name (which I think was a very good idea, otherwise who knows how many other folks would have been fleeing their tombs at His call!) And God was indeed glorified.
We need both sisters, as I said. As Romans tells us, we need to confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord, and believe in our hearts that God raised HIM from the dead...and then we will be saved. The two together. Head and Heart, like Martha and Mary.