Stories Seldom Heard
Stories Seldom Heard. I would especially like to welcome
the Religious Education teachers at St James Parish, Petaluma, CA.
This year our Sunday readings come from Matthew’s Gospel and our
daily Gospels come from Mark’s Gospel. As we listen to the Sunday
and daily readings and at the same time reflect on the Fourth
Gospel, we are becoming more aware of the differences in these three
Gospels. It is a strong reminder that each Gospel evolved out of
the faith experience of very different early Christian communities.
Each community has its own experiences, theologies and situations to
address. Hopefully by reading these Gospels at the same time, we
will become more aware of their similarities and differences. These
insights will enable us to ask new questions and gain a deeper
understanding of how the Gospels were the unique expression of each
The story of
the raising of Lazarus is complex. From the beginning there is much
activity. Many different people enter into the story and many
questions are asked. It’s a pivotal story in the Fourth Gospel.
Not only do we learn much about Jesus, Martha, Mary and Thomas, we
also hear of the religious leaders’ determination to kill Lazarus as
well as Jesus. So there is much for us to ponder.
We know that
Jesus was good friends with Martha, Mary and Lazarus. We hear it
again in this story. When Jesus arrives in Bethany Jesus hears of
Lazarus’ death from those who come to support Martha and Mary during
this painful time. When Martha hears Jesus is in the village she
goes out to meet him. Her words to Jesus are bitter-sweet. They
seems to embrace both hope and blame. “If you had been here my
brother would not have died.” Following these first words, Jesus
and Martha have a poignant conversation. In this conversation Jesus
tells Martha, “I am (the great “I am” heard by Moses) the
resurrection…..Do you believe this?” Martha’s response is deliberate
and faith-filled. “Yes, Lord, I believe you are the Christ, the Son
of God, the one who was to come into the world.”
Martha is the
first to make a full profession of faith in the Fourth Gospel. This
might surprise us since Matthew’s Gospel puts an emphasis on Peter’s
profession of faith. But the Fourth Gospel shifts the focus. The
Gospel also develops Martha’s personality. In this Gospel, she is
not a busy-body as some have concluded from Luke’s description of
her. She is a woman of great faith, an intimate friend of Jesus and
a true disciple. She is generous and thoughtful of her sister
Mary. There is no rivalry between them. Martha quickly runs to
tell Mary that Jesus has arrived. Mary is the same woman who
anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. When Mary meets
Jesus the scripture says she throws herself at his feet. Then she
says the very same words as Martha. “If you had been here my
brother would not have died.” This story develops our understanding
of Martha and Mary. It also gives us a better understanding of
their importance and presence in the Bethany community and Jesus’
We also get a
broader insight into the faith of Thomas the Apostle. So often the
only way we identify him is “Thomas the doubter.” But in this
passage we hear of his love and courage. When Jesus decides to go
to Bethany Jesus knows it will be dangerous. Thomas is the one
disciple who says, “Let us go with him and die with him.” His
faith, boldness and support of Jesus cannot be forgotten. Seeing
is important to him, but he also teaches us that faith is not based
on seeing. In this passage Thomas is identified as “the twin.” Is
it because his spirit is at one, is a “twin,” with Jesus’?
that gathers to mourn Lazarus’s death is not much different from
other crowds. There is much variety. All come to support Martha
and Mary, but their responses to the situation and Jesus’ actions
differ greatly. Some of the comments seem to be laced with
bitterness or sarcasm. “He opened the eyes of the blind man could
he not have prevented this man’s death?” Other comments note Jesus’
compassion and love for Lazarus. Notice too that Jesus asks the
community to remove the stone and the bindings. Jesus does not do
it. Rather he calls the community to unbind Lazarus. It’s a strong
reminder to us of the power and need for community. Often it takes
a community to reach out to a person who is dead- emotionally or
spiritually- or living in darkness to bring them back into the light
and life of the community.
This story is
very full. Part of its greatness is that it shows us a very human
Jesus. Jesus loves his friends. He calls Martha and Mary to full
faith and discipleship. He weeps when he sees the crowd weeping and
he weeps over his friend’s death. This is one of the few times in
scripture when we hear of Jesus weeping. It is also Passover week.
The raising of Lazarus is the last straw for those who seek to kill
Jesus. Jesus is aware of the danger that is closing in on him. He
knows that by giving Lazarus life, he will secure his own death. In
a very literal way Jesus lays his life down for his friend Lazarus.
As we reflect
on each of these characters we might ask ourselves some questions.
Where am I in this crowd? With whom do I identify most closely? Am
I as generous and courageous as Thomas? When have I said with a
full faithful heart, “Yes, I believe.” What am I doing to remove
the stones and unbind those people who are held captive in fear,
isolation or darkness?
Levertov reminds us how important it is to stop and ponder the
mystery of life, faith and God’s presence in each moment of our
Days pass when I forget the mystery. /Problems
insoluble and problems offering their own ignored solutions/jostle
for my attention, they crowd its antechamber along with a host of
diversions, my courtiers, wearing/their colored clothes; caps and
And then once more the quiet mystery/is present to
me, the throng's clamor/recedes: the mystery/that there is
anything, anything at all, /let alone cosmos, joy, memory,
everything,/rather than void: and that, 0 Lord/Creator, Hallowed
one, You still, hour by hour sustain it.
thanks to Mary Ellen Green and Maria Hetherton who have helped in
editing this article.
Seldom Heard" is a monthly article written by Sister Patricia
Bruno, O.P. Sister is a Dominican Sister of San Rafael,
California. This service is offered to the Christian community to
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