Editorial by Rev. Peter John Cameron, O.P.
When Jesus was in Jerusalem, a favorite place for him to stay was at the home of his dear friends Martha, Mary, and Lazarus—three siblings who lived in nearby Bethany. Saint Luke tells the famous story of the Lord’s visit there that became an occasion of consternation for Martha and of contemplation for Mary (Lk 10:38-42).
The dilemma of death
Sometime later, Lazarus was stricken with sickness and started to fail fast. His condition was serious enough to prompt the sisters to send a word of warning, “Master, the one you love is ill” (Jn 11:3). In fact, Jesus purposefully delayed his going to Bethany until, as the Lord tells his disciples “clearly,” “Lazarus has died” (Jn 11:14).
With this, Jesus raised the stakes. The disciples had witnessed the wonders that Jesus could work with the blind, the lame, the deaf, lepers, the possessed, the paralyzed, the infirm. But death is death. What could he possibly do about a four-day-old corpse?
The Lord arrives and Martha, coming out to meet him, initiates the famous dialogue with Jesus: “Even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you” (Jn 11:22). It culminates with Martha’s profession, “I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world” (Jn 11:27).
What brings about such certainty and conviction in Martha? Only a personal, agonizing, actual experience with death. The devastation of loss faces her with a choice: she can give in to despair, or she can cling more closely to Christ, the Resurrection and the Life.
Yearning for resurrection
Martha moves us to set greater hopes on Jesus—a hope that would have remained unfounded if we had never heard the declaration of our Lord, “Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (Jn 11:25-26).
We know of Martha’s willingness to wait on Jesus, serving his everyday needs. But maybe she learned from Mary to pay attention prayerfully to every detail of Jesus’ life. Saint Thomas Aquinas writes that “at times Jesus anticipated his Resurrection, and showed some of the endowments of a glorified body; of light-footedness, when he walked on the waves; of delicacy, when he broke not open the Virgin’s womb; of invulnerability, when he escaped unhurt from those who wished to stone him or cast him to the ground.” Could it be that Martha’s contemplation of these events generated her sureness about Jesus, the Son of God?
A miraculous reunion
The day after Christmas 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami, caused by the 9.2 magnitude Sumatra–Andaman earthquake, ravaged much of Southern Asia, including Thailand. The McClure family, Bill and Susan and their young daughters Morgan and Lily, had just arrived in Thailand the day before.
When the tsunami hit, Bill McClure was in a boat at sea on a scuba diving expedition. When Susan first spotted the wave from the family’s beach bungalow, she thought it to be like any other. But as the thing grew in size, it crashed over boats anchored offshore, smashing them on the rocks. That’s when Susan and the girls knew they needed to run for their lives.
Fleeing with other families, they headed to higher ground, running and climbing a hill for an hour until they could no longer see the beach below but could still hear the sound of crashing waves. Susan McClure compares the experience to “your worst nightmare, the one where you are pursued by unseen evil and it is always just on your heels.”
After two hours, they thought it safe to return to the beach where they were to camp overnight. But despite this refuge came a new sorrow…for there still had been no word of Bill McClure. In the darkness, as the three began to settle down for the night alone, they heard a familiar whistle. It was Bill—safe! And he had found them! Wife and daughters jumped up and flung themselves into the arms of the man who seemed like someone who had walked on the waves to come back from the dead.
As we continue on our Lenten journey dealing with the little experiences of dying to self that daily come our way, let us beg for Martha’s confidence and trust. No matter how much we are pursued by that unseen evil that seems to be always on our heels, we will stay with faith before the stone of the tomb just the way we stay before the door of a tabernacle. In the darkness we will wait to hear the “family whistle”: “Lazarus, come out!”