By Emmanuel Egbunu
On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. 21 "Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask." 23 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." 24 Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." 25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" 27 "Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world."
If there is ever a time when our faith is stretched, it is at the time of waiting. It is that time when we have prayed fervently and earnestly claimed God’s promises to strengthen our faith. It is that time when all these exercises have been undertaken and we feel so sure that the expected result would come, we feel certain and at peace that heaven has heard and approved our request. Just then, in a way we cannot explain, that sickness ends in death, (as in Lazarus’s case in our passage above); or that examination result (for one level of promotion or another) turns out differently; or that job doesn’t come or, as must now be the experience of some who trusted God and ventured into politics with all their hard-earned resources and more – and yet the result turns out negative.
To have faith through the tears of bereavement, when standing at the grave of a loved one, and all our hopes seem buried, is not at all easy. We ask the most famous question of dark days – Where is God? Where is He when John the Baptist who is faithfully heralding the coming of the Messiah is shut up in prison by a morally bankrupt despot and finally beheaded to please a young lewd dancer and indulgent dinner guests? Where is God when John is compelled to ask, “Are you he who is to come or should we expect another?” Where is He when justice is twisted by respectable Jewish clerics hunting for false evidence against Christ until He is sentenced to the cross? Where is God when Paul is awaiting trial for two years and is compelled to appeal to Caesar, and then ship-wrecked and consigned to prison? Where is God when His children are thrown to wild beasts and mauled to death unlike the miracle of Babylon?
That is when He pours out abundant grace to make the true believer say “Thy will be done”. That is when He is bringing out the gold of our faith – faith that says like job, though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him; “… I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth…” But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold… (Job. 13:15; 19:25-26; 23:10).
Through her sorrowing heart and tear-filled eyes, Martha faced the probing question of faith from the Lord; Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" (Jn. 11:25,26) Both Martha and Mary had felt that an earlier arrival by the Lord would have saved the situation; “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died”. (21, 23) How often we reason the same way in the time of pain, failure, disappointment, grief, etc. We feel that if the circumstances were different, our pain or tragedy would have been averted. But like Martha, our faith should be able to say, “But I know that even now, God will give you whatever you ask” (v 22).
When we feel that our situation is a hard one, and think of alternatives to Jesus, the question facing us from heaven is unmistakable as in this passage, “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?"… 66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. 67 "You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve. 68 Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom we shall go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." Like Peter we must answer, Lord, to whom shall we go? (Jn. 6:60-69) and like Paul, we must affirm, And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day (2Tim. 1:11-12).
(The Most Revd. Emmanuel Egbunu is the Archbishop of the Ecclesiastical Province of Lokoja)