Sunday Reflection with Fr Terry Tastard - 10 April 2011

Wall at Bethany

Wall at Bethany

Previous generations tended to see Martha of Bethany as the embodiment of the active life, cooking and in general caring for others, while Mary of Bethany was seen as a symbol of the contemplative life, casting herself at the feet of Jesus and hanging on his words.  But I wonder.  If you look at the story of the raising of Lazarus, you will find much in the example of Martha that speaks to us about what it means to be a person of intercession.

First of all we notice that her pain, her grief, are not hidden.  ‘If you had been here, my brother would not have died.’  You can almost hear the crack of the words.  They are like an accusation, aren’t they, even if they are immediately qualified by a statement of faith.  Honest prayer is often an untidy thing.  Sometimes, like Martha we will find ourselves weeping and asking, ‘Where were you, Lord?’  We bring to God our anxiety, our distress, our anger even.  We bring our sense of our own need and the needs of others.  Prayer has to be honest about our feelings, our emotions, before we can settle down into something more centred on God and the enduring reality of God’s love.

Martha says to Jesus, ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God.’  All prayer for Christians involves an affirmation of Christ as the one who came into our world.  He came to bring God to us and to bring us to God.  Because we know that Christ has been among us we know that God does not leave the world as it is, but draws the world back to himself through Christ.  Through his suffering we know that God has suffered with us. Through his presence we know that our joys and our sorrows are brought to God.  We can hold up our world, its tensions and tragedies, and ask that in all things God’s loving, comforting presence may continue to be known, just as Jesus came to make that presence known at Bethany at a time of great sorrow.

Martha also does not hesitate to speak the truth.  She says, with typical bluntness, that the processes of decay will have taken their toll on her brother’s body.  There will be a smell.  There is a warning here for us.  There is a spiritual decay at work in our world which is resentful of the light and life brought by Christ.  This was true even there and then at Bethany.  In the gospel according to John, it is this staggering event that makes the authorities fearful of Christ and determined to bring his influence to an end.  If we are to be people of prayer then we have to acknowledge that there is a pervasive and corroding cynicism in our culture, not just about religion but about any kind of idealism.

You can visit Bethany today.  Its Arab name is Al-Lazariyah, the place of Lazarus.  Sadly, it is one of the places where we find the dividing wall between Israel and Palestine.  It literally divides the village.  The Sisters of Charity school in Bethany has been cut off from the Palestinian Christian community it serves.  The Israelis would remind us that the wall has saved lives that would otherwise have been at risk from suicide bombers.  The Palestinians would point to the people who can no longer get to school or hospital, and to the land grabbed from them.  Suspicion, hostility, division, estrangement:  in our world we need to hear once more the command of Christ that those who are held in the power of death may be set free.

Fr Terry is Parish Priest at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Brook Green, west London.   His latest book:  Ronald Knox and English Catholicism is published by Gracewing at £12.99 and is available on Amazon, on ICN's front page. To read Sr Gemma Simmonds' review on ICN see:

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