This is no surprise. After all, Martha is the sister who cooked, cleaned, and prepared everything when Jesus and His friends dined with their family, while Mary sat quietly by, listening at the feet of Jesus. You could say Martha was active while Mary was passive, though Jesus always maintained that Mary had “chosen the better part.” I often wonder how that would have gone, all that sitting and listening, had there been no bread or wine for anyone, no place prepared. I always felt that Martha got a bad rap; it was her action that enabled Mary’s comfortable communion with Jesus.
Fast forward to the death of their brother, and Martha goes out to meet Jesus on the road. The Scripture says He was about two miles away, in Bethany, when Martha caught up to Him and she challenged Him straight away, while at the same time pleading in faith for a miracle:
“Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give to You.”
After a few words, Jesus asks Martha to go get Mary, which she does, and Mary gets up immediately to meet Him. The Scripture says that Jesus remained in that place where Martha met Him, and this is where I start to wonder.
Two miles. Martha walks two miles home to get her sister, and then Mary walks two miles to meet Jesus, and all that time, He does not move any closer to them. He doesn’t walk a step toward the sisters, toward His friends who are suffering with a raw and profound loss. Jesus stays put. (John 11:17-45)
We know the rest of this story, that Jesus is moved by their sorrow and weeps. Some translations even say that Jesus is angry at the sorrow caused by death, and He ultimately raises Lazarus after he’s been in the tomb for four days. A miracle.
Yet what was the cause of His delay on the road? Maybe it took an hour for those women to walk the four miles to reach Jesus, and another half-hour for Jesus to reach Jerusalem, where Lazarus was buried. Where was the immediacy of His concern? Where was mercy? Why wasn’t Jesus rushing to help?
Today, on an unseasonably warm March day, I went to the beach to walk with my daughter and dog. I had intended to leave some pain behind there, and as I walked toward the water line, I filled my hands with wet sand, one handful for each of the heavy concerns I was leaving there, finally, for God to deal with. Resurrection is not my business, and I’ve never performed a miracle.
I know that my clenched hands won’t allow anything new to be placed in them; it was time to let go of the control I never had. So I scooped the sand, and with overflowing hands, let it go into the water. I watched as it slid away from me, part of a mystery that is happening all the time, whether we witness it or not. The waves are always coming and going, bringing things out and bringing things in. My hands were raw with the cold ocean water, and my canvas shoes had gotten wet also. I took them off and carried them like Moses did. It was holy ground.
On our way back to the car, we listened to the roar of the water and I asked God to hold what I had left behind, and asked Him to keep my hands open in a faith I find hard to access sometimes. In front of my parked car, on a little ledge, was one bright purple stone. I hadn’t gotten a nod from my mother in months, and I quickly pocketed the rock, holding on to it like a promise.
When we experience what feels like delay from God, it can be crushing, and it can take from us the things we need so desperately to live, like air and faith. But maybe it’s just a matter of releasing our expectations, hopes, dreams, and wishes to Him who knows better, who wants to give us more than we can yet imagine. He knows we need empty hands to receive all that He has for us. Miracles, maybe. It’s the hardest thing in the world to let go, and at times impossible to understand, but just imagine what new life a limitless God can pour into our open, trembling hands.
Copyright 2019 Kerry Campbell