“Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live”

Today in John 11:19-27 we meet up again with sisters Martha and Mary. And the story dynamic has changed.

Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary
to comfort them about their brother [Lazarus, who had died].
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming,
she went to meet him;
but Mary sat at home.
Martha said to Jesus,
“Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died.
But even now I know that whatever you ask of God,
God will give you.”
Jesus said to her,
“Your brother will rise.”
Martha said to him,
“I know he will rise,
in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus told her,
“I am the resurrection and the life;
whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live,
and anyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?”
She said to him, “Yes, Lord.
I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,
the one who is coming into the world.”

Well, here is an interesting turn. This is the same Martha of Luke 10:38-42 who complained to Jesus because she was left doing all the work while her sister Mary sat rapt in attention to Jesus’ every word. Now it is Martha who is rapt in attention to Jesus as he visits with the sisters after the death of their brother Lazarus.

I think what I take from this reading from the Gospels, besides Jesus’ message of hope for life after death, is the hope for faith for those who have none or who seem to be late to it.

If you know someone who seems to lack faith or who is an avowed atheist or who is a lost soul, first of all don’t judge them. Jesus says that knowledge of God comes from God and at God’s choosing. In addition, we don’t know what’s truly in someone’s heart or driving their soul. Second, don’t lose hope for them. We never know when some life-changing event will bring them into a closer encounter with God and spark the flame of faith in them. Third, people are fickle. They come and go, they choose and fade, fade and enliven. But some day, at God’s choosing, these people will have a close encounter with God. He loves them and will choose that moment, a moment when it is right for them, to show them His love and open them to a glorious relationship with Him. Don’t lose hope.

And what if you’re that person? What if you just aren’t “feeling the burn” of faith? Have you lost hope? If you are reaching out to God, rest assured He will reach back, just as He did with Martha. Don’t lose hope. You have to want it. You have to be open to it. And sometimes you have to be looking for the right signs that God is reaching out to you. In Old Testament scripture we find out that God doesn’t appear in earthquakes and great winds and horrific events – He used that to fight the enemies of Israel. God appears as whispers. As gentle nudges. In the Gospels, Jesus is not a bombastic preacher, He gently responds to those who approach Him. Those He rebukes are the scribes and Pharisees, who oppose Him. Give yourself some quiet time to reflect and look for God’s gentle touch on your shoulder; listen for His whispered response, His loving reassurance. Your faith has healed you. If they will not condemn you, neither will I. Go and sin no more.

We don’t know why Mary sat at home in today’s reading. She was sad at the death of her brother, obviously. Surely she hadn’t lost her faith. Perhaps – and I’m only speculating on my own here – but perhaps she had one of those moments we all have when life gives us a sharp slap in the face and we feel a moment of doubt. A moment of lapse in faith. It’s human nature. We aren’t perfect, which is why we need God’s help. But we know that Jesus brings Lazarus back to life. And I’m betting He brings back to life Mary’s faith, too.

And so I reiterate: Don’t lose hope. God will restore you. As Jesus said above, “Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live.” Literally and figuratively.

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