1. The village of Bethany lies in today’s West Bank. Though just over the hill of the Mount of Olives and less than two miles from Jerusalem, today you need to go all around the great wall that separates Israel and Palestine to arrive there and you go through a heavily armed security point. Then you come into a poor, congested area. In the time of the gospel, this was the home of the Mary, Martha and Lazarus family. They must have been well known and very hospitable people. When Lazarus becomes ill and dies, many Jewish people come to visit. Some come to console Mary and Martha. Some really love them. Some, no doubt come because they hear the itinerant Rabbi from Galilee may be there and they are curious.
The town of Hingham lies in a coastal community in Massachusetts and is recognized as a quintessentially New England village. On any Sunday a number of people from many local towns gather at a monastery church. Many know each other and like being with each other, caring for each other, consoling each other in the difficulties of life’s journey. Some look here for quiet and centeredness to get away from the week’s problems. Some no doubt come because they hear the itinerant Rabbi from Galilee may be there and are curious, and hope to encounter him.
2. Back in Bethany, a drama becomes to unfold and there are many characters in it. There is Mary, one of the sisters, who sits at home mourning and is visited by some of the people. She has one line in this drama, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would never have died.” She loves Jesus, believes in him, but hasn’t grasped the full picture yet.
There are some unidentified disciples. They had been accompanying Jesus in Judea and have just fled to the other side of the Jordan with Jesus, fearful of those in Jerusalem who had threatened to stone Jesus. When Jesus tells them it is time to return to Judea, they are shocked and proclaim, in so many words, “Rabbi, are you stark raving mad? You can’t go back there!”
There is Thomas who also thinks this is a foolhardy move. He doesn’t understand the full import of what is happening but knows where he stands, is loyal and faithful to Jesus and shows his courage. His heart makes him proclaim, “Let us go along, to die with him.” Walking with the light of the world will fill in the gaps.
Where and who is Mary in Hingham? Does she mourn and withdraw? Where and who are the disciples? Are they playing it safe and avoiding any crisis? And where and who is Thomas in Hingham? Do you recognize any of these in others or in yourself?
3. Now we must finally turn our attention to Martha for she commands the center stage. She hears that Jesus is approaching the village and runs out to meet him. As Mary will do a few minutes later, she laments that Jesus had not been there to heal Lazarus. But she adds, “Even now, I am sure that God will give you whatever you ask.” She is open to something even more powerful in her beloved friend.
Jesus gives her what some might consider a trite and catechism answer, “Your brother will rise again.” But Martha jumps in again, “I know he will rise again, in the resurrection of the last day.” She is theologically correct and is on the edge of faith.
Then comes the clincher. Jesus feels for these people. He weeps in love for his good friends, the brother who has died. The gospel says Jesus was moved by the deepest emotion and was troubled in spirit. What he is about to do is not some cold, detached and imperial decision.
First, though, he gets to the heart of the matter and says to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even though one should die, will come to life; and whoever believes in me will never die.” And then he directly challenges Martha to let go of her hesitations and really believe. Jesus asks her, “Do you believe this?”
From her heart Martha proclaims, “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is to come into the world.”
Only then does Jesus approach the tomb and says, “Take away the stone.” Jesus looks up and prays: “Father I thank you for having heard me. I know that you always hear me but I have said this for the sake of the crowd, that they may believe that you have sent me.” Then he called loudly, “Lazarus, come out.”
The gospel ends once again with the people who have come to visit at Bethany. Some of these help to untie Lazarus and set him free. And many of them put their faith in Jesus.
4. The people in Hingham are also asked to set each other free and put their faith in Jesus. The miracle of the Eucharist is the weekly celebration of Jesus’ power over life and death. It is our encounter with the living Christ who is our resurrection and life. Here we are told, not only that we will rise from the dead, but that Christ himself is the resurrection and the life. Knowing that changes everything.
Everyone here is asked the question put to Martha, “Do you believe this?” What do the people who worship in Hingham respond?
Fr. Timothy J. Joyce, OSB, STL