The Lament of Martha of Bethany

Note: Good Friday posts have become somewhat of a tradition for me over the last few years (I’ve put past poems and stories here, here, and here), so I’ll add to it today. This is one of three pieces I wrote for tonight’s vigil at my church, and I can’t wait to see my friend Karli perform it onstage. I think many of us can relate to Martha, the sister of Mary and Lazarus. We crave stillness and thirst for silence, but we can’t find it amid the noise of daily living. For Christians, Good Friday is the best day of the year to set aside our frantic rhythms in favor of reflection and remembrance. It’s a day to light a candle, sit in the quiet, and contemplate the One called Prince of Peace.

 

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Is it wrong that I feel nothing? Because I don’t. Mary is inside blubbering on and on. I can’t console her. They’ve nailed him to a cross, and He’s going to die. People probably think she loves Him more than I, and that’s fine. It’s not a competition. It was never a competition.

But I confess, I do wish I felt things like she does.

It’s always been that way. Even before she could talk, I would find her sometimes laying in the hills, looking up at the clouds and laughing. I would lay down next to her and try to see what she saw, but I could only wonder whether a storm was about to hit.

Now a storm has indeed hit. The greatest one of our lives. Today, we are losing the best man any of us have ever known. Indeed, he has been our hope of redemption: for Israel, yes, but… but more for ourselves. He is our friend, and… we thought He was also going to be our Salvation.

You probably think I’m talking about what happened to our brother Lazarus. And I suppose I am on one hand. Because men aren’t supposed come back from the tomb. I dressed him in his grave clothes myself, if you doubt. Our brother was blue and cold and his flesh stank, and I sealed him off from the world, while Mary cried into her hair. Afterward, I just sat stunned and tried not to seethe at Jesus of Nazareth for being too late.

And then, of course he arrived and proved himself to be right on time. He walked over amidst the crowd of mourners and gawkers and woke up my dead brother right in the thick of the afternoon.

But as unthinkable as that was, it isn’t what I mean when I say He is the greatest man we ever knew. There was something apart from any wonder He ever performed, or any wisdom that dropped so easily from his lips. You see, it was He… Himself… He was the gift. He had this… presence about Him. Mary used to have nightmares of the zealots causing riots in Jerusalem. They would always end with Lazarus dying in attempt to defend us, and Mary about to be speared and… Well, the day we met Him, her dreams stopped. Never came back. And from that day on she just… couldn’t be afraid. It was as if His very presence had chased away fear itself.

Power alone can’t do that. Miracles by themselves can’t do that. Only love can. Love that can peer into the dream world as well as the waking. Jesus of Nazareth. Our friend. Our salvation…

But I fear I missed Him. I missed out while He was here, sitting right in front of me.  So what right have I to mourn His death?  Mary and Lazarus can weep day and night, night and day for a month, and I’ve no right to stop either of them, but I… I…

When they would come to our home—Jesus and the twelve— I would grow tense. And I know, my father used to quote the saying, “Let your house be a meeting place for the rabbis. Cover yourself in the dust of their feet, and drink in their words thirstily.” Yes, I knew it was an honor.

But tell me: in order for anyone to drink in the words of a Rabbi, didn’t they first need a meal? Didn’t they need food and drink and a clean spot on the floor? Mary used to chide me on those nights, “Stop, sister. You’ve done enough. Come join us.” And my anger would burn against her until Jesus himself took her side.

“She’s chosen the better thing,” He said. I could feel my face turn hot, and I looked at her, expecting to see some victory in her eyes, but she was watching his face with a clueless kind of glow, like a young girl laughing at the clouds.

So I sat. I sat while He spoke of the goodness of God, and the strange ways of the Kingdom of heaven. I sat, but I did not listen. How could I? In the morning, they would need breakfast. Someone would need to make the bread—that certainly wasn’t going to be Mary, and Lazarus would be working in the fields. So while Jesus spoke words of life, I shut my eyes and counted loaves and dirty rags.

And a voice inside me screamed, “Stop, Martha! Just stop and behold Him!”

But I could not heed the voice, and that is the difference between us. Mary pours out her adoration with quietness and tears and kisses made of sweet perfume; I pour out mine with stale wine and worries. I want to quiet myself too, but my mind just… won’t… stop… Even now, I know I should go to him and sit at the feet of his cross. It’s not too late, he should be alive for hours still. I could go and… finally cover myself in his dust.

But I just can’t! There is just too much to do! I must plan for his burial. We already have grave clothes ready for him, only once used. Lazarus will not mind—and I’ll get help with the myrrh, and… and…

Can you hear her weeping now? Oh my sister… I just want to feel what you feel, but I just don’t know how.

6 replies
  1. staceycmm
    staceycmm says:

    Jason – this is beautiful. My husband and daughter often call me Martha. It is a family joke but sometimes it isn’t really funny because I say exactly the things Martha said in her head.

    Like you, I have an autistic son. My son also have numerous other diagnoses. My whole life revolves around him and his care. I WANT to grow closer to Jesus and know I should but I am ALWAYS thinking about what needs to be done. My mind never stops. I find it virtually impossible NOT to be Martha every single day – not only with Jesus but, in lots of ways, even with my son. I’m so busy taking care of him and his stuff that I don’t enjoy him. I do a lot of volunteer work at my church so, in a way, I also am so busy taking care of His stuff that I don’t enjoy Him.

    I’m on my way to a contemplative service at my church now. I’m so glad I read this first. It will remind me how important it is to just focus on why I am there. Thank you!

  2. Grace Audet
    Grace Audet says:

    I remember, as I was considering this, it seemed to me as if Jesus said, “I never told Martha to sit at my feet, only not to be troubled by Mary’s choice.” I think the New Jerusalem Players (Jews for Jesus) did a variation on that thought, ending with Martha happily continuing to work (perhaps listening more to Him than to her inner turmoil)

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