Here beginneth a LONG quotation from John 11. Bear with me!
17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?”They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Mary and Martha each make the same statement to Jesus. Exactly the same, as our preacher last week pointed out. Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
Yet he responds differently to each. To the practical one, the one who is on her feet as soon as she hears him coming, running headlong perhaps to ask him why, to her he responds with words. Words of truth, a reason – even if she cannot fully understand it. He honours her faith in believing that he is favoured by God, that whatever he asks will be given him, and he pushes that faith one step further: towards an understanding that he is not just the one whom the LORD answers but also the very resurrection and life itself. Where I am resurrection is, he seems to say.
And his words are precious to the one who has run all the way up the road despite the grief. His words are a gift of grace to the one who may perhaps have gone ready to accuse, certainly to question Jesus’ choice not to come before. They are words which do truth, words which create a response in her, the only response appropriate to the Christ, the Son of God. And so she is blessed beyond measure, for in the same way as Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi, flesh and blood did not reveal this to her but rather the Father in heaven.
Martha is blessed, for his words are truth and have done truth in her life.
But I cannot help it. I am drawn to Mary. Always.
She captivates me, weaving through my own life as call to another way. She turns up almost without fail in the occasional personal prophecies that I receive; always it comes back to her. Mary, the one who was content to sit at Jesus’ feet. Mary, the one who had chosen the better portion which would not be taken from her. Mary, it is always Mary.
Because when Mary speaks to Jesus, the very same words that her sister had uttered before her, she falls at his feet. Martha, we must assume, had stood. She’d waited for the response to her question, operating in the realm of the cognitive, a realm which our Lord knows well and in which he delights. Martha had been honoured by him, an answer for a question yet also so much more: a word which was not only truth but which also did truth in her. Martha had been touched by her encounter with Jesus.
But Mary… Mary, she entered the realm of the heart, as perhaps she always had. She fell at his feet, the same feet where she had spent hours listening and loving. Though her words were the same as her sister’s, the response from her Lord was different. Whereas before it was Martha who was touched, this time it is Jesus who is touched. It is he who is deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled, he who now weeps the tears of a real flesh-and-blood Saviour.
What was it about Mary, a heart that could move his? What was it about her that she touched something deep within him? It wasn’t her words, that’s for sure: they were the same as her sister’s, a question implied, an answer longed for. To her also, it would seem, he could have offered those words which are truth and which do truth, words which would have touched her and brought her to her sister’s confession of faith.
But he did not.
And we don’t know why. I suspect she had already made this kind of affirmation of faith; there’s something about the way that she falls at his feet and weeps which hints at this for me. But we don’t know it for sure. Yet what we do know is that Mary’s tears move the Saviour and also, perhaps that her trust in him is implicit, for it is not she who worries that there will be a smell when the tomb is opened – he, after all, is Lord of all the earth, the resurrection and the life.
As I reflect upon these things, it all comes back to Mary for me. Once again. I want to be Mary more than Martha in this story. I want to talk with him, to ask the questions I hardly dare broach; I want to be heard by him and I want to hear his reply. I want the words that are truth and that do truth in me – I absolutely do. If it were not so, I would not be fighting so hard to listen to him – to his Word and to those through whom his Spirit has spoken and is speaking still. I would not be struggling to say truth about Jesus and the church and leadership and disciple-making and holiness. I would not wrestling to say truth about these things in a way which also does truth in my life and the lives of those around me. There is no question for me that I want the words that are truth and that do truth in me and those I serve.
But I want more than this.
I want to be one who moves his heart. I want to be the Mary who throws herself down before him. The Mary who falls at his feet because nothing she can ask or say can express the depth of her passion to be with him even as the world around her seems confusing and dark. The Mary who is looking perhaps less for answers from him than for intimacy with him. The Mary, who in her passion for him, can somehow move the very heart of God.
And so it is that I say this again:
Somehow Mary, in my pursuit of Jesus, always it comes back to you.