Mary stayed at home.
It was out of character for her to do so. After all she’d just received news that Jesus was approaching her village. She and her sister had asked him to come a few days ago. But when she heard the news that he’d arrived she remained at home, while Martha ran out to meet him. “You go,” she’d told her sister without further explanation.
Jesus had frequently visited their home on his way to and from Jerusalem. He stayed with them in Bethany and they were numbered among his closest friends. But Mary’s brother Lazarus had fallen ill and subsequently died. They’d sent word to Jesus crying out for help and he hadn’t responded. They were alone at Lazarus’s bedside when he died. Alone when they wrapped his body and carried him to the tomb. Alone among grieving friends and relatives when they rolled the stone over the entrance. Alone for the past four days in their home where his memory lingered, his belongings lying where he’d left them. And Mary felt alone with the hole in her heart fresh and bleeding.
Jesus hadn’t come when they’d most needed him, so Mary stayed at home when he finally showed up. What did she have to say? Her words couldn’t convey her disappointment and her pain, perhaps even anger. Everything she’d come to love and believe about him were now in doubt and question. Not good at masking her feelings she didn’t know how to pretend that she was happy to see him. Best to keep to herself and stay away. Maybe time would heal.
“Wow, if I’d been in Mary’s position I’d have been like Martha and rushed to greet him!”
We like to think the best version of ourselves always shows up, unlike these flawed and fickle men and women scattered throughout the biblical narratives. If anything, we’re probably more akin to the religious leaders who showed up to critique, question and test Jesus. They kept up a brave face, and they demanded proof and answers. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, miracles, and teaching, they hedged their bets, were politically neutral or correct, and certainly were hesitant to commit to much other than the status quo. If Mary had been religious, she’d have kept her thoughts to herself, remained in her familiar subservience as a woman of the day, and gone about her duty.
The trouble was that Jesus was to blame. He was the one who’d befriended the family. He was the one who kept visiting. He was the one who disregarded religion and empty politics and who’d treated Mary and Martha on the same level of friendship as her brother Lazarus. It was Jesus who gave Mary the courage to be authentic, to speak her mind and feel her feelings. The result was that she’d opened her heart to a deep relationship with him. Then, when she’d most needed him and cried out (her brother’s impending death), and he failed to respond, of course she was devastated and confused. So, she stayed home.
Martha, the pragmatic and busy sister, went out to meet Jesus. Of course, she always did the ‘right’ thing. But she hadn’t been gone long when she was back at the door telling Mary that Jesus has asked for her. Immediately Mary followed her sister, responding to Jesus’ request. When they met she couldn’t pretend and wept through her wounded phrases stuttering, “Why? Where were you? Didn’t you care?”
Jesus didn’t rebuke, or lecture, or avoid her emotion. The shortest sentence in the entire Bible sums up his response at the agonizing of his dear friend. Jesus wept. Then he asked where they had laid Lazarus and together they walked to the tomb and Lazarus was brought to life again at Jesus’ command.
I don’t know about you but I can certainly identify with Mary. Hopes risen around friendship and relationship and then dashed with disappointment at God’s apparent indifference, paralysis, or lack of presence. The majority of us probably won’t witness a resurrection (even though it’s possible), but most of us will identify with Mary at some point in our lives. We invest in a project, a relationship, a vision, a church, a business – or whatever. Everything seems great and then suddenly something happens and we’re knocked to the ground. We cry out to God and there is nothing. No answers, no direction, no comfort, no presence. We choose to shut down, stay at home, lick our wounds, and simmer on the inside when our cries go unheard and our ‘Lazarus’ is dead and buried.
In this account God reminds us that we can be authentic with him. He’s always at work even when our circumstances make no sense in the immediate moment. Whether we rush out with Martha or stay home with Mary Jesus embraces us as we are. Our emotions matter, our questions matter, and our conclusions are often misguided. Jesus is always asking after us by name. In many instances he’ll use someone we know to draw us closer to himself even in the midst of disappointment and confusion. He’s not religious he’s deeply relational and he regards you and me as his friends.
When Jesus wept no more words were necessary for Mary. She didn’t understand, and her questions were still unanswered, but she realized that Jesus was not indifferent. He loved and cared deeply – for her, and her situation.
The same is true today for you and for me. Revelation and understanding often take so much time. When we want to stay at home we need to allow our hearts to be open to the Father’s love precisely when our mind is out of it’s depth and drowning. Our heart, embraced with compassion and love, can help the angry mind walk on water when nothing makes sense. It’s not so different to when a parent picks up a wailing child who’s screaming ‘why?’ and soothes them with soft words and an embrace. The parent assures them of love and that ‘everything will be OK,” but never answers the question.
Sometimes, knowing God cares, has to be enough – for now. Be blessed wherever you are. God has no favorites and you are his beloved. Trust him with all of you as Mary did; be authentic in your relationship with him, expect him to work through others around you, and watch how more of him envelopes you and miracles happen.
You can read this story in John Chapter 11.
Need someone to talk to, listen, be encouraged to navigate your present and your future? Go to Little Mountain Counselling to find out more. Not a hopeless end, but endless hope.