For the past two weeks, we have heard readings, unique to John’s Gospel, that focus on unnamed people whose initial encounters with Jesus lead them to believe in him. This Sunday, however, John records the faithfulness of Jesus’ friends, Martha and Mary, whose brother Lazarus has recently died. Interpreters often focus on the raising of Lazarus and its obvious parallels to Jesus’ resurrection. But Martha and Mary are at the center of this story. They provide us with another biblical example of women as preachers and steadfast believers in Christ.
Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ (Jn 11:21, 32)
What actions can you take to promote women as church leaders?
Where are you within your Lenten journey?
Do you remain faithful to God even during difficult moments?
The sisters Martha and Mary are friends of Jesus who believe that he is the Messiah. In the next chapter, it is Mary who anoints Jesus with fragrant, expensive oil in preparation for his burial (Jn 12:1-8). When their brother becomes ill, Martha and Mary appeal to Jesus, trusting that he has the power to heal. Jesus is unresponsive because he knows that Lazarus’s death will be “for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (Jn 11:4). Raising Lazarus from the dead is the culmination of the powerful signs Jesus performs in the Gospel of John.
After Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days, Jesus approaches Bethany, and Martha goes out to meet him. Her first statement is a declaration of Jesus’ power: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you” (Jn 11:21-22). When Jesus assures her that Lazarus will rise, Martha provides an astute theological response that acknowledges the resurrection of the dead on the last day. Inspired by Martha’s proclamation, Jesus reveals powerful details about his identity: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Jesus asks Martha if she believes, and she responds with a confession of faith: “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”
After her encounter with Jesus, Martha returns to Mary, who then runs to meet him. Like Martha, Mary proclaims that Jesus’ presence would have kept Lazarus alive. Then Mary speaks volumes with her emotions. Mary’s weeping and wailing are powerful acts of mourning that affect those around her, including Jesus, who is upset and deeply moved by her pain (Jn 11:33). Though he demonstrates his power and divinity by raising Lazarus, Jesus poignantly expresses his humanity in his reaction to Mary’s grief and in his own weeping for Lazarus.
Martha and Mary epitomize faith in Christ. Even when faced with an unbearable loss, they are steadfast in their trust, and their faith is enhanced by their interactions with Christ. Martha articulates her faith in Jesus as the anticipated Messiah and Son of God. Mary’s wailing is evocative to her community and to Jesus, who is moved by her lamentation. Martha and Mary preach through their words and actions. We can learn much from these women who inspire us to maintain an unshakable faith, even during the darkest of hours.