Martha, I think gets a bad rap from the way many people have interpreted a particular story about her in the Gospel of Luke. In Luke, Mary and Martha have Jesus over for dinner, and Mary has committed the outrageous, scandalous act of sitting at Jesus’s feet. She has taken the position of a disciple, a learner, a student, a place reserved only for men.
Meanwhile, Martha is rushing around doing her proper women’s tasks, keeping the counters clean and making sure the roast doesn’t go dry in the oven. Finally, Martha gets so exasperated with doing all the work herself, she says to Jesus, “Lord, tell Mary to get up and help me.” Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried about so many things. There is only need of one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away.” More on that another day.
But often in the church, this passage in Luke has been interpreted to mean that Martha is the kitchen worker. Martha is the one worrying about mere earthly matters. Maybe Martha is not as smart as her hoyty-toyty A-student feminist sister.
Well, here in the Gospel of John, Martha says something about Jesus. She says, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God who is coming into the world.” Not the Son of God who has come. Not the Son of God who will come. The one who is coming right now.
This statement of Martha’s lands slap in the middle of the story about Lazarus, which, in turn, lands slap in the middle of the Gospel of John.
Other people make other statements about who Jesus is in the Gospel of John. Near the beginning, Nathanael says, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God.” Peter says, “. . .you are the Holy One of God.” At the end of John, after the resurrection, Mary Magdalene says “I have seen the Lord.” Seeing and understanding are the same word in the Gospel of John. So she says, “I have understood the Lord, I have known the Lord.” And of course, doubting Thomas at the very end, says to Jesus “May Lord and my God.”
But Martha’s witness, Martha’s statement about Jesus, right slam in the middle, at the core of the Gospel of John. Maybe Martha is a little smarter than we thought at first. Jesus, the resurrection, the life, is coming right now.
Now, that is a fine and true thing to say. It is particularly easy to hear in the brightness of sunlight and the beauty of music and the joy of good news about friends and family and the world.
But it is true of other times as well, the not so happy times. For example, Mary says to Jesus, just like Martha, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. If you had been here, you would have been able to wave your magic wand and keep all the bad things from happening.
Sometimes I think we feel that way. “Lord, if you had been here my friend would not have died. Lord, if you had been here, my child would not have died. Lord, if you had been here, my mother, father would not have died. These bad things would not have happened.”
Jesus does not answer with an explanation. At the beginning of the story, he gives the impression that he waited on purpose for Lazarus to die so that he could show that the power of God is beyond death. But here, he sees Mary weeping. He knows, he understands her weeping. He sees everybody else weeping around. He asks, “Where have you laid him?” He wants to know. They say “Come and see.” Come and know. Come and understand, Jesus.
Earlier in the Gospel of John, Philip says to Nathanael, “Come and see.” The Samaritan woman at the well says to the people in her village, “Come and see.” Come and see Jesus, is what they mean.
Now Mary says to Jesus, “Come and see.” “Come and see us, Jesus. Come and understand us. Because we are mortal. We are frail and easy to break. And we die. Come and understand us, Jesus. We are human. Our loved ones die and it leaves a hole in our souls. It hurts. Come and see.”
Then Jesus weeps. The form of the word does not indicate that he just weeps and then stops. He keeps weeping. He is weeping while he travels to Lazarus’s grave. He is weeping while he prays. He is weeping while he calls out, “Lazarus come out.” He is weeping even though he knows for a fact that Lazarus is going to be up and walking around in less than fifteen minutes. He weeps because he sees how hard death is on us mortals. How it tears us.
You know, the resurrection is coming. Easter is coming. But it’s not here yet. Many of us are still waiting. Some of us might still say, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother world not have died.” Well, the Lord is here. He’s not making things all better, yet. He’s not pulling us out of our graves, yet. He will. But right now he is weeping with us. He is still here, weeping. And that’s a kind of new life, too.