Friendship is the most perfect of human emotions, because it is the most free, the most pure and the most profound.
Of the Friendships of Jesus in the Town of Bethany
St.John is the evangelist of the divinity of Christ.Nobody else understood him so well; none has repeated so faithfully what the Son of Man affirmed of the Son of God, and none has seen any nearer what he had heard from less far.In reading him one is astounded that Arianism could have been possible, to such a degree, at each step, does the co-eternal union of the Word with God shine forth, and of the Son with the Father.But St.John is also, by another privilege, the evangelist of the heart of Jesus Christ.Object himself of one of His predilections, none has better expressed how He loved, none has recorded more moving examples, or better expressed, in this admirable story of which John is one of the four authors.
This, moreover, is how John begins the 11th chapter of his Gospel.
1.There was a man named Lazarus who became ill in Bethany, in the home of Mary and Martha his sister.
2.This Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume, and washed his feet with her hair, and it was her brother Lazarus who was sick.
3.The two sisters sent a message to Jesus, therefore, to tell him, “Lord, he whom you love is sick.”
4.On hearing this, Jesus said to his disciples, “This illness is not for death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God be glorified by it.”
5.Jesus loved Martha, and her sister Mary, and Lazarus.
6.After they learned that Lazarus was ill, they stayed on two days in the same place.
7.Finally he said to his disciples, “Let us return to Judea.”
8.His disciples said to him, “Master, the Jews are seeking to stone you, and you would go there again?”
9.Jesus answered them, “Aren’t there twelve hours in the day? If a person walks in the daylight, he does not stumble, because he has the light of this world.
10.“But if he walks at night, he will stumble, because he does not have the light within him.”
11.That is what he said to them, and he added, “Lazarus, our friend, is sleeping, but I am going to call him from his sleep.”
12.His disciples said to him, “Lord, as he is sleeping, he will be saved.”
13.Jesus was speaking of death, but the others understood him to be speaking of an ordinary sleep.
14.He then said to them clearly, “Lazarus is dead.
15.“And I rejoice because of you, that you will believe, because I was not there; but let us go to him.”
16.Then Thomas, also called Didymus, said to the other disciples, “Let us go also, and die with him.”
17.Jesus then went, and arrived when Lazarus had been four days in the tomb.
18.Bethany was near Jerusalem, about 15 stadia distant.
19.Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them for the death of their brother.
20.As soon as Martha learned of Jesus’ arrival, she ran to meet him; as for Mary, she remained seated in the house.
21.Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
22.“But I know that what you ask of God, God will grant you.”
23.Jesus said to her, “Your brother will come back to life.”
24.Martha said to him, " I know that he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.”
25.Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life who believes in me will live even if he dies.
26."And whoever lives and believes in me will never die.Do you believe this?"
27.She said to him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God, who has come into the world."
28.And having said that she went, and calling Mary, her sister, in a loud voice, she said to her, "The Master is here, and he is asking for you."
29.On hearing this, Mary also arose, and she came to him.
30.Jesus had not yet entered into the town and he was still at the place where Martha had met him.
31.The Jews who had been with her in the house and had consoled her, seeing that she had arisen and that she had gone out followed her saying, "She goes to the tomb to weep there."
32.But Mary, having arrived at the place where Jesus was and seeing him, fell at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."
33.Jesus seeing how she wept and the Jews also who had come with her, sighed from his heart and was deeply troubled.
34.And he said, "Where have you placed him?”They said to him, "Lord, come and see."
35.And Jesus wept.
36.The Jews said among themselves, "See how much he loved him."
37.But some said to themselves, "Isn’t he the one who opened the eyes of one born blind -- couldn't he have done something so that this man would not die?"
38.Jesus, again deeply sighing, arrived at the tomb, where there was a cavern and was a stone that closed it.
39.Jesus said, "Take the stone away.”Martha, the sister of the man who had died, said to him, "Lord, there will already be a smell, because it is four days since he died."
40.Jesus said to her, "Didn't I say to you, that if you would believe, you would see the glory of God?"
41.They took away the stone then, and Jesus, his eyes raised to heaven, said, "My Father, I give you thanks that You have heard me;
42."I know, it is true, that You always listen to me but I say this for those around me, that they may believe that You have sent me."
43.And having said that, He cried in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out."
44.And then appeared he who had died in the feet and hands tied it with bandages and his figure covered with a shroud.Jesus said to them, "Untie him and let him go."
I do not know what others may think; as for me, were there only this page in the gospel, I would believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ.However much I may recollect everything I have read, I know nowhere else where the truth imposes itself with so palpable a power.There is not a word there that does not convey to the innermost being of man the conviction that God alone has been able to act thus and to inspire someoneto write this.As a scene of friendship, nothing comparable exists in any past century and in any language.Tenderness wells up out of this account, and yet one could say that it is not expressed.It rests entirely within and, while feeling it all the time, one only hears it by this one phrase:“And Jesus wept.”Jesus would not cry during his passion; he did not cry when an apostle gave him the kiss of betrayal, nor when St.Peter denied him out of fear of a servant girl, nor when at the foot of his cross he saw his mother and his dearest friend.It was the supernatural hour of our redemption, and the divinity of the Just One who redeemed us by his suffering could not be rendered visible by strength and majesty.But just before this moment, when Christ, still free, lived his earthly life with us he could not refuse at the tomb of a friend the weakness of grief.He trembles, he is disturbed within, and at last, like one of us, he weeps.Holy trembling, happy grief, precious tears, which prove to us that our God was sensitive like us, and which allow us also to weep one day in our joys and our friendships.
Jesus had then in Bethany an entire family of friends.It was at this time that, coming to Jerusalem, into the city where his sacrifice would be consummated, he rested from the fatigue of preaching and took refuge from the sorrowful perspectives of the future.These were pure hearts, devoted, friends; there, the incomparable good of an affection that could resist all trials.It was also from Bethany that he set out to make his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and it was in view of Bethany, his face turned towards its walls, towards the East, that he rose up into Heaven, at almost an equal distance between Calvary where he died, and the house where he was most loved.Even today, when the traveler coming down from Jerusalem has passed the torrent of Cedron and climbed the Mount of Olives, he discovers on the eastern slope of these hills a few huts mingled with the ruins.There is pointed out to him amongst this debris three spots barely distinguished amongst the shapeless mass of ruins.“There,” he is told, “was the house of Lazarus; there that of Martha; there that of Mary Magdala.”The memory of creatures has been stronger than the destruction wrought by barbarians, and the name of the friends of Jesus, lasting longer than the scattered stones, still strikes with a moving sound these indifferent solitudes.On the other side, and from the same position where he is standing, the traveler discovers Jerusalem lying in the evening sun, sad, pensive, having only a tomb for its glory, but it is the tomb of its God.The thoughts and the gaze of the Christian wander between these two sights of a different kind of desolation.Here, nothing more than the name; there, a town still, but what a town!Jesus has not wanted to leave so near to her the residence and tomb of his friends; he has carried everything away in his ascension and, casting Bethany beyond the sea, he has prepared for those who loved him on shores forever Christian, an immortal hospitality!
But if, reviving in our imagination these vanished habitations we enter them piously in the footsteps of the Master; if we seat ourselves at the evening banquet with Jesus, Lazarus, Martha and Mary, we will ask ourselves perhaps to whom amongst these so loved guests the heart of Jesus went out most.Because, even in a special preference, there are degrees of preference, so deep is love and its endless gradations.Can we penetrate this mystery? Is it allowed us to descend with the Gospel, and to bring to it the holy curiosity of a spotless devotion? I believe so.One cannot know too much about where the Master’s heart dwelt, so as to know whom one must love most with him and after him.If the Christian seeks in the dust the footsteps of the Saviour, how much more so must he look in the Gospel for the trace of his affections!I will look for it therefore.Traveler to the memories of Bethany, I can cross the vestibule, see everything that is being done, hear everything that is being said, and answer myself when I put the question to myself:“Who then was the most loved?”
Was it Lazarus? All there is about him is this phrase, which he shares with Martha and Mary:“Jesus loved Lazarus.”And this other, which is personal:“Lazarus, our friend, is sleeping.”And this final phrase, “Lazarus, come out.”
As for Martha, she is the first to know that Jesus has arrived, she runs to him first, and before anyone else she says to him:“Master, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”But when the Saviour answers her, “Your brother will rise from the dead,” she is not struck by a light which makes her understand the sovereign thought of the Son of God.Her faith hesitates, and it is for Jesus Christ to say to her, “I am the resurrection and the life, do you believe that?”Then, in spite of her reiterated affirmation, that she does, when the Master orders the stone to be removed from the entrance to the tomb, she cannot prevent herself from remarking to him that the dead man has been there four days, and it is necessary for the Master to tell her reproachfully, “Have I not told you that you will witness the glory of God?”
Mary is more retiring than Martha.She does not realize at first that Jesus has arrived.She remains seated inside the house, until Martha comes in to tell her in a low voice, “The Master is there, and he is calling for you.”It is Jesus who calls Mary.He does not want what he has resolved to do to take place out of her sight.And she, as soon as she hears of the arrival of the Master, runs and falls at his feet.Martha had remained standing, Mary flings herself at the feet of Him whom she loves.Her words are the same as those of her sister, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died!”But Jesus says nothing in reply to her, and asks from her no act of faith.He knows she believes.The sight of her tears moves him, and he himself sheds tears.Up to that moment he had concealed his feelings; before Mary his weakness breaks out, he breaks down, he trembles, he is troubled, he weeps.“And Jesus wept.”
There was then in Mary a deeper humility, a more living faith, a greater hold on the heart of Jesus.She was loved with a preference which her virtues revealed, because they were at once the result and the cause of the love of the Son of God for her.And this conclusion is confirmed for us by a celebrated passage of the Gospel according to Saint Luke, in his tenth Chapter.
38.And moreover, it happened that as he was traveling, Jesus entered a certain town, and a woman called Martha welcomed him into her home.
39.And she had a sister called Mary who, sitting at the feet of the Lord, listened to his Word.
40.As for Martha, she busied herself about the household and, standing before the Lord, she said to him, “Lord, does it not bother you to see my sister leaving me to do the housework alone? Tell her then to give me a hand.”
41.And the Lord answering her, said to her:“Martha, Martha, you busy yourself too much about household affairs.
42.There is only one thing that is necessary.Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her.”
What was this better part, if not a greater love for our Lord, merited by a more perfect return? Martha served, Mary listened and meditated.Martha was standing, Mary was seated at the feet of the Lord.Martha was complaining, Mary was silent.Between these two forms of affection so differently expressed, it is impossible to hesitate in declaring that of Mary better.Jesus of necessity said she was the preferred one, and preferred with this promise that her better part would be reserved to her forever.
But who was this Mary who had succeeded in the love of Christ in reaching such an exalted abdication of everything except contemplation and meditation!St.John is careful to inform us from the second sentence of his account.Hardly has he named Mary than he interrupts himself to tell us!It was this same Mary who anointed the Lord with an unguent, and who dried his feet with her hair.Clearly, the apostle attaches some significance to making her known to us, and in making her known by an action which does not allow us to confuse her with any other woman of the Gospels.If any other woman had anointed the Lord with an unguent, and dried his feet with her hair, this action, being no longer applicable to a single individual, would no longer indicate clearly that it was Mary of Bethany.Moreover, St.John wanted to indicate her clearly, and he wanted to do so, because the very act he used to distinguish her from all other living creatures, was an extraordinary act, unique, sublime in his eyes and worthy of being remembered for all time.Several women followed Jesus and waited upon him; several had for him a love worthy of the Son of Man and the Son of God, of the Son of God by the chaste adoration of a supernatural tenderness, of the Son of Man by the care they took of this infirm nature which he had assumed for us.But only one woman amongst them all had had the inspiration to anoint with perfume and to dry his wet feet with her hair like a linen cloth.This last detail reveals one soul alone.There are actions that can be repeated by the same soul who has conceived them, but that cannot be copied by another.Twice a woman threw herself at the feet of the Lord; twice a woman poured over them the liquid of a priceless perfume and dried them with her hair, but even if the Gospel had not hinted at it, even if tradition had been silent, we could be certain that there was here one sole source of inspiration, and that, if the anointing occurred twice, there was only one heart to conceive of it and only one hand to perform it, just as there was only one God to receive it.