We need each other. Family, friends, the broader community and humanity are blessings. The diverse gifts of each person combine to form a wonderful mosaic that becomes the life of all. We all contribute to that mosaic just as we all benefit from it.
Bethany was an important place for Jesus. It was where Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus lived. They were central to Jesus’ circle of love and care. Their home became his home. It was where he went when he needed rest. Christ and the three siblings became close friends. They enjoyed each other’s company and drew strength from their friendship.
True friends are a blessing. They listen to and make time for each other no matter what. They are people whom we trust. We can share the bits and pieces of our lives with them no matter how personal or even embarrassing it might seem at times. Friends don’t judge – neither condemning mistakes or lavishing false praise so as to win favour. To be a friend is to be honest – carefully choosing the right moment to say what needs to be said. Friendship is reciprocal, give and take, offer and accept, reach out and embrace, listen and share.
In the Gospels we find vignettes that illustrate the friendship between Jesus and the Bethany family. St Luke’s tells us how they first met. In a beautiful example of the blessings that flow from reaching out to people, Martha invited Jesus to their home. Perhaps, she saw that he needed to rest and felt sorry for him. In the family home. Martha prepared supper while her sister Mary sat and listened to the Lord. This led to a little tension between the sisters. Why should one have to work while the other sat down? Friends just like families are not perfect. There will always be moments of disagreement and stress in every family and every relationship. But the bond of love and friendship overcomes the tension.
The second visit of Jesus to his friends at Bethany occurs at a time of bereavement. They needed help so they sent for Jesus. Lazarus had died. St John’s description of that visit in his Gospel includes the beautiful line ‘Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus’. Jesus’ love enabled them respond in love. This was an emotional visit. Jesus wept when he reached the bereaved sisters. He helped them in their hour of need and restored Lazarus to the love of Martha and Mary. Their friendship deepens. Tears of pain became tears of joy.
The third time Jesus visited his Bethany friends was a celebration. Jesus joins Martha, Mary and Lazarus for supper. Once again Martha is busy serving but Mary is also active. She comes in with a jar of ointment. She anoints Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair. She used an enormous quantity of expensive ointment, the equivalent in monetary terms to a year’s wages. Many were shocked, but not Jesus. He saw love and generosity where others saw waste. But it is the next line which is truly beautiful. The house was filled with the scent of the ointment. Mary’s goodness, her act of love filled the whole house and changed everything. Love and friendship are like that. They are never closed, private matters. The joy and goodness that flows from them radiates outwards and lifts us all up.
Today, 29 July is the feast of Martha Mary and Lazarus. It is a new feast. Previously, we celebrated Martha alone on this day. Pope Francis wanted all three to be celebrated together. The document that he approved to make this change tells us:
In the household of Bethany the Lord Jesus experienced the family spirit and friendship of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, and for this reason the Gospel of John states that he loved them. Martha generously offered him hospitality, Mary listened attentively to his words and Lazarus promptly emerged from the tomb at the command of the One who humiliated death.
Martha the practical woman, Mary the generous listener, Lazarus blessed by God all combined to create a home for Christ. His practise of pausing his work of preaching and healing every so often to simply relax with his friends in Bethany is an example we could all benefit from.
Today’s feast of Jesus’ friends invites us to reflect on the gift of friendship. It is good to identify the moments when our friends depended on us or when they carried us. Friendship needs nurturing and patient honesty to be lifegiving. We thank the Lord who reaches out to us in friendship, for the blessing of friends in our lives just as we say thanks to all who form our circle of love and care.
Fr. Albert McDonnel, based in Kildysert is Vicar Forane of the Pastoral Area of Radharc na nOileán
Clare Champion Article 30th of July 2021