Lent 5(A): A Miracle Beyond the Miracle
By: The Rev. Oscar A. Rozo
When it comes to facing difficulties in life, I always become a Martha! In today’s reading from the Gospel of John we encounter one of the most painful and difficult moments that anyone can face in life: the death of a loved one. Scripture tells us that after being informed of Lazarus’ illness and death, Jesus arrives in Bethany four days later to be with Mary and Martha and console them in their loss. When Jesus arrives, he encounters a force to be reckoned with: the sisters’ anger, frustration, despair, and fear.
There are a few interesting interactions that take place in this story. First, when Martha realizes Jesus is in town, she decides to go out to the street to confront him. As soon as she sees him, she boldly says to him: “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” These few words carry an accusatory tone. Martha’s reaction to Jesus would have been revolutionary to most of Jesus’ followers—followers who never questioned Jesus. Second, unlike her sister Martha, it seems that Mary preferred to stay at home and remain in solitude in her mourning. Perhaps she was dealing with so much heartbreak that she couldn’t face Jesus. Both interactions with Jesus reminded me of times in which I have faced difficulties in life and have taken out my anger and heartbreak on God. An action that to some of us might seem revolutionary, after all who questions God?
As mentioned earlier on the first paragraph, I always become a Martha when it comes to facing life’s difficulties. Some months ago, after checking with our regular doctor, my wife and I were told we were pregnant once again. Even though we were excited about the news, I could not hide my apprehension. Unfortunately, we had suffered a few miscarriages throughout the past few years, and even though I was excited about this new pregnancy, I was also deeply sad and frustrated with God. I could not understand why God would allow our miscarriages to happen. As I was dealing with my own sadness and frustration, I realized that my wife was joyful and excited once again. The first few months of the pregnancy went by fast and once we got past the point in which we had miscarried before, I began to experience such joy as well. Then I said to myself, “perhaps I have been too hard on God. Perhaps I should never question God’s wisdom.” Then the doctors diagnosed our baby with Spina Bifida, a birth defect that affects the baby’s development of the brain and the baby’s spine. Just as Martha confronted Jesus: “if you were here, my brother would not have died,” I also confronted him: “if you were here, my son would not have spina bifida.” In the days following I did not even try talking to God. I was deeply sad, I felt lost and disappointed. I wonder how many of us have been there before? I wonder how many of us are Marthas and Marys?
But the story does not end there. Mary and Martha are on the street with Jesus, and while they are weeping, Jesus’ spirit is greatly disturbed and deeply moved. Then Jesus began to weep as well. Perhaps life is not fair, perhaps life is just a difficult journey in itself, but the one thing that I have learned throughout the past few months is that I am not alone. Just as I wept during the miscarriages, just as I wept when my son was diagnosed spina bifida, I knew in my heart that God was there with me, weeping.
This story is a reminder that regardless of how we deal with our pain, regardless of whether we are a Mary (heartbroken) or a Martha (anger) when facing difficulties, God is always there, holding us, walking with us and even suffering our own suffering. Perhaps this is the biggest miracle that takes place in this story. The miracle of God’s eternal presence in our lives, a miracle that transcends the resurrection of Lazarus, that transcends our own suffering and reminds us of an eternal unity between humanity and God.
Over the following months, as we have gotten closer to the delivery of our baby, what became most important to my wife and me is the fact that we have been blessed with the coming of our first child. The diagnosis of the spina bifida has faded into the background and we are excited to face whatever life has for us, after all: we have one another and we have God.
The Rev. Oscar A. Rozo is an Episcopal priest serving as priest in charge of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin (Diocese of Milwaukee). Oscar is originally from Bogota, Colombia and moved to the U.S. in 2004. He now lives in Wisconsin with his wife, The Rev. Elizabeth Tester, their puppy Amos, and kitty Batsheva.