Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Part 2: "But Mary sat still in the house."


Welcome to Part 2 of our online examination of the biblical account of Jesus' raising of Lazarus from the dead. I hope you will continue to experiment with the various parts of each lesson and let me know what you think.


Lord, remind me of your presence in all parts of life.  Let me use this time to focus my attention and broaden my understanding.  Help me be to be relaxed, alert, and welcoming to whatever you want me to learn or know today.  Amen. 

Film Portrayal

There have been many dramatic portrayals of the raising of Lazarus in plays, movies and television shows.  Here is a link to one of the portrayals that closely follows the biblical text.  It's from a movie called "The Gospel of John," starring Henry Ian Cusick as Jesus:


The account of the raising of Lazarus appears in the Gospel According to John, Chapter 11, verses 1-44.  Here is the passage again, this time as translated in the Authorized (King James) Version:

"Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.
2(It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.)
3Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.
4When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.
5Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.
6When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.
7Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again.
8His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again?
9Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world.
10But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.
11These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.
12Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well.
13Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep.
14Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.
15And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him.
16Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellow disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him.
17Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already.
18Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off:
19And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.
20Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house.
21Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.
22But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.
23Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.
24Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.
25Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
26And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?
27She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.
28And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee.
29As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him.
30Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him.
31The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there.
32Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.
33When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled.
34And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see.
35Jesus wept.
36Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!
37And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?
38Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.
39Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.
40Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?
41Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.
42And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.
43And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.
44And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave clothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go."

Discussion:   "But Mary sat still in the house..."

I find it fascinating to notice the way in which John's account of the raising of Lazarus tampers with the reader's expectations regarding how the main characters will act.  For example, although the Gospel According to John almost always portrays Jesus as calm and totally in control of his emotions, verse 35 describes Jesus as weeping openly before the tomb of his friend Lazarus.  In verse 16, it is not Peter (usually the bravest and most vocal of the disciples) but Thomas who bravely urges his fellow disciples to join him in accompanying Jesus to Bethany, even at the risk of death.  The Apostle Thomas is frequently called "Doubting Thomas" because of his initial reluctance to believe the reports of Jesus' resurrection--but that description does not fit Thomas in this episode.

In the same way, the account's description of Lazarus' sisters, Mary and Martha, seems somewhat surprising.  In chapter 12, verses 1-4, Mary is described as anointing Jesus' feet and wiping them with her hair, at a banquet honoring Lazarus after his return from the dead.  In the Gospel According to Luke, chapter 10, verses 38-42, Mary sits in rapt attention at Jesus' feet, while Martha is irritated that she must serve Jesus and the disciples without any help from her sister.  It is often assumed, then, that Mary was the more attentive follower, while Martha was more concerned with household logistics.  In John's account of Jesus' arrival at the tomb of Lazarus, though, it is Martha, not Mary, who promptly leaves the house to greet Jesus, and it is Martha who professes faith in Jesus as Messiah.  Mary, the author notes, remained at home.  In the King James translation, the text notes pointedly, "Mary sat still in the house."

Why?  Why did the two sisters not go to meet Jesus together?  If only one sister went to meet him, we might imagine that Mary would be the one to do so.  We might imagine Martha back at the house, hurrying to serve food to the other guests who had come to console the sisters. 

According to the John's Gospel, though, Mary remained at home, even after she had been informed of Jesus' arrival.  She only left her house to speak to Jesus after her sister returned home again "secretly" to get her, saying, "The Master is come, and calleth for thee." (verse 29).

Perhaps the two sisters perceived the etiquette of mourning differently.  Mary may have expected that she should remain in the house while mourners came to her and her sister to offer condolences.  Martha may have instead perceived a duty to go out to welcome Jesus, in order to recognize Jesus as more important than an ordinary well-wisher.

In all events, I think the sisters' different responses helps highlight the difference between depression and ordinary sadness.  Everyone is sad upon the death of a loved one.  The intense longing for the loved one feels overwhelming, and sorrow grips the heart. Mourning rituals are sometimes difficult for anyone to manage.  But life continues.  Sometimes, though, personal tragedies (or even otherwise innocuous events) can trigger an emotional and medical condition that is more debilitating that sadness.  Depression is not merely a mood, and cannot be overcome simply by wishing for a better attitude.  It is a biological condition.

Depression can render a person unable to make decisions and even unable to muster the strength to get up to do anything.  It can create a profound sense of hopelessness.  It can be physically painful.  it can destroy the desire to live.  It is not a mood or an emotion, but a medical condition.  Depressed people cannot think or act as they normally would.  Perhaps Mary was not just sad, but depressed.  If so, then Jesus' raising of her brother caused a healing in her too--a medical healing.  Then perhaps the restoration of Mary's sense of emotional control was a second, less frequently noticed miracle in Bethany.


Have you ever known another person has suffered from depression?  What became of that person?  Have you ever been diagnosed with depression?  What kinds of medical and/or psychological treatment have helped?  In such times, has faith in God played any role in dealing with the depression?  In what ways has it helped or not helped?  Has God seemed present or absent in the midst of depression? 

Have you found anything helpful to say or do, for a person who has been suffering from depression?  Notice that although Jesus spoke with Martha about his own identity as "resurrection and life," and promised that Lazarus would live again. (verses 23-26),  he offered no theological pronouncements or promises to Mary.  Jesus did not give Mary any advice.  He simply asked where Lazarus had been buried, and acted to raise him.  Does your own experience in dealing with a person suffering from depression suggest anything about the effectiveness of offering a depressed person your own affirmations about Jesus' identity or eternal life?  What is the best thing to say to a person suffering from depression after a great personal tragedy?  What should we pray for, in dealing with such a person?  In what ways might the Bible or rituals (either religious rituals or rituals of daily life) be helpful?

Think about the account of the raising of Lazarus again, in connection with such times.  In what ways might the image of Lazarus being bound in a shroud and held in a tomb seem to reflect the feelings of someone in the throes of depression?  Does the account of the miracle seem reassuring?  Or do you react more like those in the crowd-- “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”  In such a time, how can Jesus summon a person suffering from depression to "come forth," to come out of a "tomb" of emotional deadness?

Is it significant that, after Lazarus emerges from the tomb, Jesus orders the people to "loose" Lazarus, and "let him go"?

What do you imagine Mary thinking, as she emerged from the house to talk with Jesus?  What might Lazarus say, upon seeing Mary and Martha outside the tomb? 


Lord, be with us in all despair and depression.  Be also with others suffering from such desolation.  Help us know how to be of help to others who are suffering. Remind us that you are Lord of all life, and Lord over death itself.  In the midst of all the crises and sorrows of our lives, remind us that your love never fails.  In the name of Jesus, who raised Lazarus and who promises life to all of us, Amen.

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