“Jesus wept.” John 11:35
Jesus had a large circle of friends. Today we get an inside glimpse at three of those friends: Martha, her sister Mary and their brother Lazarus from the little town of Bethany, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. It was that special place in the life of Jesus where he and his disciples could stop in, get some rest, enjoy a hot meal and great conversation and then be on their way.
I have always had such places in my years as a priest — places such as Dorothy Spalding’s in Calvary and Marea Gardner’s here in Louisville.
If you pay attention to the details of this story, you soon realize just how close Jesus was to these people.
First of all, we know that this Mary was the Mary who kissed Jesus’ feet in public, washing them with her tears, drying them with her hair, and rubbing them with perfumed oil. When was the last time anybody kissed your feet? You have to be pretty close to do that, not to mention in public!
Read down the text and you see that John underlines again and again just how intimate these people were with Jesus: “Lord, the one you love is sick.” And, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus very much.” And, “See how much he loved him!”
They are even so close that these two women can “chew him out” and get away with it: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would never have died.” And finally, seeing Mary weep, we are told that Jesus began to weep too.
In his Gospel, John’s stories always have two levels: one on the surface which is true and another below the surface which is truer still. This intimate story is meant to reveal to us not only the depth of their friendship, but also how intimate is God’s friendship with us!
1. One of the biggest challenges I have faced as a priest is to convince people of God’s unconditional love. Why is it that so many religious people have the need to comb through the Scriptures and piece together condemning, judging and damning messages and turn them into a religion?
2. By listening in on the conversation between Jesus, Martha and Mary, we are taught that eternal life is not just some promise for the future; it is available to us right now. We are, in fact, in it as we speak.
3. We are taught that God has power over our worst enemy — death. We live in a death-denying culture. Some of our expensive funeral practices would leave outsiders with the impression that we believe that we are going to come up with a cure for death someday. That makes about as much sense as leaving the runway lights on for Amelia Earhart. We are taught here not to fear death.
The bottom line is this: God loves us very much and we can actually enjoy “eternal life,” starting right now!
Father J. Ronald Knott