Death is almost always a topic we shy away from. We are not comfortable with it. Some of us fear it for ourselves and our loved ones. As a hospital chaplain, I sat with many people as they passed from this life to the next. Some resisted death bitterly. But there were others who found comfort at the prospect of meeting their Savior. These believers realized that God is with them even in death.

I have often wondered what Martha and Mary must have felt when Lazarus died. After all, they were close friends with Jesus. He had come to their house to eat with them and teach at their table. They sent Jesus a message telling him that Lazarus, their brother and his friend, was gravely ill. And then they waited. One day. Two days. Three days. Four days. And now it was too late. The funeral had already taken place.

In fact, the seven days of intense Jewish mourning was already past the half-way point. It was beyond the point of no return when Jesus decided to go to Bethany, their hometown.

When Martha heard that Jesus was nearby, she quietly and discreetly left her house and sister. Her friends had come to mourn with them and console them. I can just imagine Martha’s state of being as she ran. Oh, yes! I am confident that she ran to meet Jesus. Her heart was aching and almost ready to burst. Martha wanted to lash out. And she did. The moment she saw him, she spewed out, “Where were you Jesus? You know, if you had been here, Lazarus would not have died.”

Her words to him were indeed stinging. She had been holding in all of her pain. Jesus calmly and lovingly told her, “Your brother will rise again,” to which she sarcastically replied, “Yes, Yes, I know that!” But with every beat of her heart, she was really saying, “I wanted you here to prevent this horrible thing from ever happening.”

Meanwhile, Jesus continued saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me even though they die will live.” Then Jesus asks her a very pointed question, “Martha, do you believe this?” To which Martha responded, “Yes, Lord I believe.”

The next scene has Martha whispering into Mary’s ear. Martha tells her sister that she had just met with Jesus and now he was asking to see her. Without a word, Mary jumps to her feet and bolts out of the house. This is what she had been waiting for. It’s not as though Mary had no regard for the house full of friends. Rather, her heart and her soul, troubled as they were, needed tending. They needed relief. She needed to see Jesus. Their friends naturally assumed that Mary must have left to go to the tomb. So they followed her. When Mary encountered Jesus she dropped to her knees right in front of him. I can just imagine her tears coursing down her already chapped cheeks as she looks up at Jesus and boldly states “Lord, IF you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Her pain causes her to blame Jesus for Lazarus’ death. Both she and her sister believed that their brother’s death could have been prevented. He died, so they lashed out.

One of my father’s friends, Dr. Tomas Rivera, wrote about his migrant life in the 1940’s and 50’s. As a young boy, Tomas and his family would travel from our hometown of Crystal City to where ever field hands were needed. In spite of his later success, he never forgot the challenges of his formative years. In his book, Y no se lo Trago la Tierra, (“And the Earth Did Not Devour Him”) he talks very personally about the topic of death in his family.

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Christianity Today
'If You Had Only Been Here'