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Stories Seldom Heard Archive

Stories Seldom Heard

211th Edition

The Fourth Gospel 11:1-54


Welcome to Stories Seldom Heard.  I would especially like to welcome the Religious Education teachers at St James Parish, Petaluma, CA.

This year our Sunday readings come from Matthew’s Gospel and our daily Gospels come from Mark’s Gospel.  As we listen to the Sunday and daily readings and at the same time reflect on the Fourth Gospel, we are becoming more aware of the differences in these three Gospels.  It is a strong reminder that each Gospel evolved out of the faith experience of very different early Christian communities.  Each community has its own experiences, theologies and situations to address. Hopefully by reading these Gospels at the same time, we will become more aware of their similarities and differences.  These insights will enable us to ask new questions and gain a deeper understanding of how the Gospels were the unique expression of each faith community.


The story of the raising of Lazarus is complex.  From the beginning there is much activity.  Many different people enter into the story and many questions are asked.  It’s a pivotal story in the Fourth Gospel.  Not only do we learn much about Jesus, Martha, Mary and Thomas, we also hear of the religious leaders’ determination to kill Lazarus as well as Jesus.  So there is much for us to ponder.


We know that Jesus was good friends with Martha, Mary and Lazarus.  We hear it again in this story.  When Jesus arrives in Bethany Jesus hears of Lazarus’ death from those who come to support Martha and Mary during this painful time.  When Martha hears Jesus is in the village she goes out to meet him.   Her words to Jesus are bitter-sweet.  They seems to embrace both hope and blame. “If you had been here my brother would not have died.”  Following these first words, Jesus and Martha have a poignant conversation.  In this conversation Jesus tells Martha, “I am (the great “I am” heard by Moses) the resurrection…..Do you believe this?” Martha’s response is deliberate and faith-filled. “Yes, Lord, I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into the world.”


Martha is the first to make a full profession of faith in the Fourth Gospel. This might surprise us since Matthew’s Gospel puts an emphasis on Peter’s profession of faith. But the Fourth Gospel shifts the focus.  The Gospel also develops Martha’s personality.  In this Gospel, she is not a busy-body as some have concluded from Luke’s description of her.  She is a woman of great faith, an intimate friend of Jesus and a true disciple.  She is generous and thoughtful of her sister Mary.  There is no rivalry between them.  Martha quickly runs to tell Mary that Jesus has arrived.  Mary is the same woman who anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair.  When Mary meets Jesus the scripture says she throws herself at his feet.  Then she says the very same words as Martha.  “If you had been here my brother would not have died.” This story develops our understanding of Martha and Mary.  It also gives us a better understanding of their importance and presence in the Bethany community and Jesus’ life.


We also get a broader insight into the faith of Thomas the Apostle.  So often the only way we identify him is “Thomas the doubter.”  But in this passage we hear of his love and courage.  When Jesus decides to go to Bethany Jesus knows it will be dangerous.  Thomas is the one disciple who says, “Let us go with him and die with him.”  His faith, boldness and support of Jesus cannot be forgotten.   Seeing is important to him, but he also teaches us that faith is not based on seeing.  In this passage Thomas is identified as “the twin.”  Is it because his spirit is at one, is a “twin,” with Jesus’? 


The community that gathers to mourn Lazarus’s death is not much different from other crowds.  There is much variety.  All come to support Martha and Mary, but their responses to the situation and Jesus’ actions differ greatly.  Some of the comments seem to be laced with bitterness or sarcasm.  “He opened the eyes of the blind man could he not have prevented this man’s death?”  Other comments note Jesus’ compassion and love for Lazarus.  Notice too that Jesus asks the community to remove the stone and the bindings.  Jesus does not do it.  Rather he calls the community to unbind Lazarus.  It’s a strong reminder to us of the power and need for community.  Often it takes a community to reach out to a person who is dead- emotionally or spiritually- or living in darkness to bring them back into the light and life of the community.


This story is very full.  Part of its greatness is that it shows us a very human Jesus.  Jesus loves his friends.  He calls Martha and Mary to full faith and discipleship. He weeps when he sees the crowd weeping and he weeps over his friend’s death.  This is one of the few times in scripture when we hear of Jesus weeping.  It is also Passover week. The raising of Lazarus is the last straw for those who seek to kill Jesus.  Jesus is aware of the danger that is closing in on him.  He knows that by giving Lazarus life, he will secure his own death. In a very literal way Jesus lays his life down for his friend Lazarus.


As we reflect on each of these characters we might ask ourselves some questions.  Where am I in this crowd?  With whom do I identify most closely?  Am I as generous and courageous as Thomas?  When have I said with a full faithful heart, “Yes, I believe.”  What am I doing to remove the stones and unbind those people who are held captive in fear, isolation or darkness? 


Denise Levertov reminds us how important it is to stop and ponder the mystery of life, faith and God’s presence in each moment of our daily lives.


Primary Wonder


Days pass when I forget the mystery. /Problems insoluble and problems offering their own ignored solutions/jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing/their colored clothes; caps and bells.


And then once more the quiet mystery/is present to me, the throng's clamor/recedes:  the mystery/that there is anything, anything at all, /let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,/rather than void: and that, 0 Lord/Creator, Hallowed one, You still, hour by hour sustain it.                          

Special thanks to Mary Ellen Green and Maria Hetherton who have helped in editing this article.

"Stories Seldom Heard" is a monthly article written by Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P.  Sister is a Dominican Sister of San Rafael, California.  This service is offered to the Christian community to enrich one's personal and spiritual life.  The articles can be used for individual or group reflection.  If you would like "Stories Seldom Heard" sent to a friend, please send a note to"   If you would like to support this ministry, please send your contributions to Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, c/o Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P., 638  36th Street, Richmond, CA    94805.

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To make changes or remove your name from Stories Seldom Heard mailing list please contact me at  Thank you.  Sister Patricia

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