Saturday, September 24, 2005

Do You Believe This?

Martha was put on the spot. Her beloved brother Lazarus had died four days earlier and was buried in a tomb. Her dear friend Jesus came to see her, and she received an initial word of consolation from Him: “Your brother will rise again.” This seemed to her like standard comfort for the bereaved, an appropriate passage from the catechism, as it were, but it wasn’t going to change anything in the here and now. So she just responded with a similar one, perhaps with a touch of resignation: “I know that he will rise again—in the resurrection on the last day.”

Here’s where Jesus puts her on the spot, as He sets aside the catechism: “I AM the resurrection and the life! He who believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die [literally, “shall not die forever”]. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). The teaching came alive in his own Person; the resurrection was no longer in some indeterminate future. The Resurrection was standing before her.

Martha was taken aback. What did his words mean? What did He think He was going to do? So she dodged his question slightly, not restating it in her answer as in the previous one, but at the same time making a powerful profession of faith: “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.” In effect she was saying that she believed that since He was the Son of God, the awaited Messiah, whatever He said was true, and whatever He wished to do, He was able. But she may not have been all that sure He was actually going to raise her dead brother. It was too good to be true, too much to ask, even from the Messiah.

This doubt of hers was manifest when Jesus commanded that the stone be taken away from the tomb. She protested, making it clear that her brother was not only dead but already decaying. We have to wait till the last day for resurrection, she may have thought. But Jesus turned to her with fire in his eyes and cried out, “Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” (11:40). So He called out: “Lazarus, come forth!” The divine voice of Christ echoed through the halls of Hades, and the dead man returned from the netherworld alive, to the utter astonishment of all who witnessed it.

As we read the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is going to be checking with us: “Do you believe this?” We need to make a profession of faith. We are faced with many questions, many difficult circumstances, many apparently insoluble problems in our lives, and it takes a lot of faith just to keep going on. We hardly know the way to turn, what is true anymore, how to live rightly. Wait a minute, says Jesus: I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life! I AM the Light of the world; whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness. Do you believe this?

The Holy Eucharist may bring up another demand for faith. In the Byzantine Liturgy, before receiving Holy Communion, we offer a prayer that begins with a profession of faith very much like Martha’s: “O Lord, I believe and profess that You are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners…”

Cling to the word of the Lord. As Jesus often said, your faith is your salvation. He is resurrection; He is life. Do you believe this? If you do, you will see the glory of God.