When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.
We may wonder sometimes if Jesus knows our grief. We forget that he is just as human as we are. When Martha goes out to meet Jesus, she is meeting with a dear friend. Unsettled, with mixed thoughts and feelings, she tells the Lord, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” It can sound almost as though she is reprimanding him. But her frankness over her frustration really shows how close she is to him, and him to her.
We know she knew him intimately, because her next words indicate the depth of her faith, “I know whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” This is also a humble prayer.
We see that Martha’s supplication moves Jesus, who already knew what he would do two days before he set out toward Judea. Prompted by her heartfelt words, Jesus engages her with his own words of encouragement, though to her it may not seem so at first. Is he challenging her faith?
On the one hand, Yes. Jesus challenges everyone’s faith in this Gospel:
Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe.
On the other hand, No, that is not his point here. He offers her consolation and fortitude. Perhaps, Martha can sense this, but her thoughts are confused, understandably. We know she has faith, and we can see that she trusts Jesus — hence, the conversation.
Note that Martha went out to see Jesus, and she invokes him first. But who really initiated the conversation? Jesus traveled a great length to see her.
In a way Martha did begin this conversation, when she sent messengers to tell Jesus that Lazarus was ill. What she may not realize is that Jesus had this whole conversation they are having in mind long beforehand.
We need to believe God knows what we need before we ask for it in prayer. We must trust that he has our best interest in mind. For Martha, maybe what is best for her is actually the confirmation of her own faith. God knows the depth of her faith, does she? Maybe she needs to hear her own words to realize it. Jesus is the one who prompts her to say:
Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God.
This is a confirmation of faith, not a test.
Next we see Jesus initiates the conversation with Mary. When she hears the words, “The teacher is here and is asking for you,” she rushes out to meet him, with tears.
Mary’s tears, not her words, move Jesus to work this miracle, because tears from the heart are the sincerest form of prayer.
Jesus, in his humanity, does not hold back his emotion when he sees and hears Mary weeping. Everyone who witnesses him crying is also moved by the Lord’s tears. They can see that he is human — See how he loved him! — but can they see him as God? — Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?
What happens next is most interesting. The Gospel tells us that Jesus was perturbed, that is, very upset by their lack of faith. This perhaps is the hardest thing for us to understand, what this miracle represents as a strong foreshadowing of his Passion, the extent to which God will go in order for us to believe in him.
I love this scene from Jesus of Nazareth. It is a little melodramatic (the whole movie is and that’s one of the things I really love about it). I think it has to be that way, because how else can one portray the emotion — the very tears of God? What other way can we experience them, than in our personal relationship with him? Films like this, are a great help for some people, like myself, as an aid to step into the Gospel and bring the Gospel into the real situations of life.
Our 40 Days are almost over. Palm Sunday is less than a week away. The Church in her liturgy invites us to stay close to our Lord during this time and grow in our faith, hope, and love for him. The best way to do this is through the Gospel and prayer combined.
Let’s be close to God and share our deepest heartfelt emotions with him as he shares his with us during these days.