Jesus is friends with Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. It is a relationship that exceeds the one he has with the twelve disciples. The intimate phrase that Martha uses when she calls Jesus to come to Bethany is “the one whom you love…” The disciples don’t question Jesus’ love for Lazarus. They simply think that going to a village two miles away from Pilate, Herod, and the Sanhedrin is insane. Love for our friends can be insane.
I suspect that Jesus has known these people from childhood. I am currently working on a novel about this friendship titled “Bethany’s People” (look for it in Lent of 2018). John’s Gospel has Jesus going frequently to Jerusalem; and Jesus doesn’t go as a tourist. He seems to know the place like a native. Bethany is only two miles from Jerusalem. It was Jesus’ habit to stay there.
The village name, Bethany, means house of poverty. It lies on the edge of the Negev where the rain fails to come regularly. Jesus has always identified with the poor. Jesus did his ministry in Galilee just outside the posh city of Tiberius. But, we have no record of his ever going inside the place. Instead, he called fishermen to leave their nets and walk with him.
Such friendship precedes faith. You have to believe that Jesus shares your pain before you can believe that he is Messiah. Many people have a fact-based, I-believe-it-because-I-was-taught-it, belief in Jesus. The Gospels never show Jesus asking for this kind of belief. He instead, looks for those who will be intimate with him. The reason we have communion as frequently as we do, is because friends eat together. Martha cooks and Jesus eats. Who comes to your house for dinner?
It is the known friendship of Jesus with the Bethany people that makes his going there dangerous during the weeks before his passion. “If we go to Lazarus’ funeral, we will die,” Thomas soberly reflects. This is a high stakes friendship.
It is in the context of this friendship that Martha verbally slaps Jesus on the face. She says, “Where were you?” Only friends and spouses have the right to say this. It is the deep hurt of someone with high expectations.
Those who take Jesus into their darkest experiences, and even risk yelling at him when he fails to meet their expectations, are brought to the place where they can believe.
Jesus asks Martha to believe that he can conquer death. This is the one thing we all want to believe. You hit pause at this point in the scripture. Do I believe this? Without Jesus, we simply die. With Jesus, we die in hope. We rise because He is the resurrection.