By Andrea Garzon & Ole Henrik Skjelstad
“When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was” (John 11:6). Jesus’ ministry wasn’t characterized by predetermined patterns or formulas. He didn’t have a manual that told Him what to do in the various situations He encountered. No should’s or ought to’s governed His ministry. He didn’t move before God made Him move. How Jesus responded to this great need that was put before Him takes the pressure off our shoulders when a great need is presented to us.
We know that Lazarus’ two sisters were quite different in their approach to Jesus. Martha was the aggressive busy one who worried about many things trying to serve Jesus, whereas Mary had chosen the good part, that is, resting at His feet doing one thing only: receive!
We are the embodiment of all these three persons. We are Lazarus, once dead, but now made alive in Christ. Then we become Martha busy worrying about many things eagerly trying to please and impress Jesus. At last we become Mary having learned from our frustrations and disappointments that there is only one good part.
It was Martha who first went to meet Jesus when He approached the city. She said to Him: “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.” What she got in return from Jesus was a theological lecture. Jesus aim was to bring her to faith. Even though her words give an impression of faith they didn’t move Jesus, because when Mary came to Him He was still on the same spot. He hadn’t moved an inch.
Martha’s words reveal a common theme among us. We believe God can, but we don’t believe He will. Our faith goes that far, but no longer. We notice that Martha expressed faith on Jesus’ behalf, but it was beyond her that what applied to Jesus also applied to her. Jesus not only shares matters of eternal proportions when He answers Martha, He also tries to assure her of His willingness to perform the miracle – to assure her that her desire is His desire.
Mary remained in the house when Martha went out to meet Jesus. That’s how we first approach our savior. We come to Him as Martha, busy and worried about many things burdened by unbelief. While still caught up in self-effort Mary’s time hasn’t yet come. It isn’t before we come to the end of ourselves that we call for our sister asking her to approach Jesus. She is our last hope, because everything else has failed.
When Mary came to Jesus she fell before his feet symbolizing that He was her everything – even her faith. The one who had learned to receive was the one who moved him to tears and made Him groan in the Spirit when she said the exact same thing as her sister: “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.” It was Mary, the one who had learned to rest at His feet, who made him move towards the city. Her dependency on Jesus was counted her as faith. By making Him everything she became everything – even His faith. In her case Jesus saw beyond the words and found His faith stirring in her, because receiving is faith.
It is also given this tale to give the reader some valuable insights into how faith is born. In the midst of travail, pain and suffering despair is born and which is the agent that makes us call for Jesus hoping He can come to our aid and perform the miracle we crave. It follows that it is by sitting at His feet faith is imparted, His faith. The kind of faith that endures everything believing that He both can and will, and even already has.
Martha went alone to meet Jesus, because her faith was so feeble that God didn’t allow it to be contested. It was Mary who had an entourage of crying Jews in her heels when she approached Jesus. Here we have every circumstance we can envision conveying the same message: This is a lost case. He is dead. No point in trying. Give up. Can’t you see how much grief you will cause by stubbornly stick to your conviction? Isn’t it typical that it is the faith that believes that the miracle can actually take place that is most severely tested and contested by a wall of circumstances?
The presence of the Jews also illustrates the solitude of faith. To have the audacity to claim that God has given you a special faith commission in the face of the impossible is to run into a wall of silence, mockery and seeming compassion which, if we probe beyond the geniality, says: “That old fool.” So, it is better to carry it in your heart trusting yourself enough to recognize God in it, and allow yourself to be that fool whose impotence to create the miracle becomes its strength.
Our dear Mary represents rest, just as Jesus operated from rest. She wasn’t moved by circumstances, only by peace. It was Martha who called for her peace when she said: “the Master is calling you”. However, the account gives no evidence of Jesus calling for Mary. Thus, when we leave the temporal realm and plunge into the eternal Martha becomes the Spirit calling forth our inner Mary sending her before Jesus as a more glorious version of the former. On this level Martha and Mary represent our different consciousnesses – our Romans 7 consciousness (wretchedness) which by the Spirit evolves into the Romans 8 consciousness (freedom).
John writes that “When Jesus saw her (Mary) sobbing, and the Jews who came with her [also] sobbing, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. [He chafed in spirit and sighed and was disturbed.]” It is not unlikely that Jesus thought, “Yeah, maybe I could have prevented it if I had been here…” Didn’t he know he would raise Lazarus from the death no matter what? His tears portray his deep compassion, and at the same time those tears show a disturbed soul as He might have been tempted towards thinking: “Perhaps I could have done things differently…?” But in the end he knew he only did what he saw the Father was doing. And only a fool believes that it is the express image of the Father in all things.