Mary, Martha & Lazarus

In September 2019, nearly 4 years after the finale was broadcast on Christmas day, nearly 10 years after it first came to our screens, Downton Abbey will be back.

I love Downton. as a student, I saved up and collected all the DVDs. I am delighted that they are making a film! But I am also wondering: where can they go with it? Hasn’t the happily ever after moment happened?

The reason I mention the Downton film is because in the Bible so many times after Jesus healed somebody, they would skip off into the sunset, praising and rejoicing. Very often, we don’t read what happened after that. Almost always, there is no sequel to the miracles that Jesus performs.

Bu this is not the case for Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

These three siblings are people who Jesus was immensely fond of. There are three stories about them in the Gospels.

In one story, we read of a squabble between Mary and Martha. Martha was busy in the kitchen, busting a gut to get a lovely, lavish meal on the table, while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and lapped up every word that he said. Sighing, tutting and puffing, a disgruntled Martha turned to Jesus and said: ‘Look how hard I’m working! Don’t you think my sister should come and help me?!’

‘Martha’, Jesus said, ‘you are so worried about this food! I’m a big fan of a humble fish finger buttie, don’t you know? Mary is sitting and listening to me, and I cannot blame her for that’. Jesus put Martha in her place, kindly yet firmly.

In another story, Mary and Martha are present when Jesus raised Lazarus, from the dead. I often talk about this reading, and Mary, Martha and Lazarus at funerals. Jesus visited Lazarus’ grave with the sisters and he wept.

Even though Jesus had the power to raise him from the dead, and even though he did so just a few moments later, Jesus still stood there at Lazarus’ graveside and wept. He didn’t rush in and make it all better straight away. He stood with the Mary and Martha and cried.

But then he did raise Lazarus from the dead and it’s a wonderful foreshadowing of what is to come.

In the third story, we see the little family a short while later.

Like I said, so many people are healed in the Bible and them we never hear about them again. But in this case, a few days after Lazarus was raised, a celebration was held in the same village in honour of Jesus.

In this story, after the miracle, during the sequel, we see a shift in the little family.

The meal is being served by Martha, but in this instance, there is no mention of frustration or irritability. Martha seems calm and peaceful in her work.

Lazarus, now fully alive and kicking, eats and enjoys the company of Jesus.

And with the change in the atmosphere, Mary goes further, honouring and worshipping Jesus. Mary takes a jar of expensive perfume and pours it over Jesus’ feet. She spreads it around with her hair. This is not as awkward and embarrassing as we might imagine it to be. But it is daring and dramatic.

In first century Palestine, women usually never had their hair uncovered outside the home. This was a very big thing for Mary to do with her hair in the company of other people. By pouring oil on Jesus’ feet and uncovering her hair, Mary showed extraordinary abandon and utter devotion to Jesus.

Then, yet again, someone has something to say about Mary’s actions. This time, it’s kill-joy Judas who chips in; ‘That bottle of perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor!’

Again, Jesus put Mary’s accuser in their place:

‘Leave her be, man! The poor are important and I will never neglect them, but the chance to serve me in this way is not going to come around again.’

So, if we had been watching a dramatised version of the Gospels where each chapter was an episode, we might have wondered how that jaw dropping, show stopping, episode where Lazarus was raised from the dead, could be topped. But, I think the third story builds upon the second.

When the family witnessed a miracle, they were joyful and grateful at the time, but were longer term effects, too.

Mary’s response to Jesus was to intuitively and powerfully worship him and prepare him for his burial.

Martha’s response was to serve with an inner peace that she didn’t have before.

Lazarus’s response was to make the most of the time he had with his friend.

In the third story, we see Mary’s unrestrained worship, Martha’s peaceful service and Lazarus’ natural friendship. I think we can learn from this.

When we encounter God, we can choose to let that goodness take root like Mary, Martha and Lazarus did. We can be more giving of ourselves in the way we worship. Mary held nothing back. She didn’t care what the onlookers said or thought. She loved Jesus and that was all that mattered in that moment.

We can also be more peaceful in the way we serve God and those around us. It is so easy to compare ourselves to others, but God has given each and every one of us a unique race to run. If you’re good at cooking, cook! If you’re good at speaking, share it. If you’re good at listening, then listen! Know that your gifts are God given, and find peace in carrying out the tasks he gives you.

And we can also know Jesus in such a way that our friendship with him is both natural and something that we rejoice in. In the third story, I imagine Lazarus reclining, relaxed and enjoying eating with his friend. Lazarus knew Jesus so well that he was completely comfortable in his presence. The only way for us to be this comfortable in Jesus’ presence is to talk to him, by praying.

But, I know that we all fall short sometimes, often, even. We fall short when we worship, serve and pray. I’m not saying that after their brother was raised from the dead Mary and Martha never had a squabble again- I’m sure they did! But they were changed from the miracle they saw.

And so much more than a happily ever after, they became better people, a stronger unit.

This makes Mary, Martha and Lazarus the sequel a good addition to the franchise!

So lets try to let our roots in Jesus grow even deeper. Let’s try to ensure that our stories, our lives, develop even further still. And like the perfume that Mary poured over Jesus’ feet which made the whole house smell divine for months to come, let’s also allow Jesus to spread through, and linger in, our own homes, relationships and lives. Amen.

Image by Congerdesign on Pixabay

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