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Bible Reflections View Comments

Life, Not Death, Is the Final Reality
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, April 6, 2014
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When tragedy breaks into our lives, even the most orderly among us can’t prevail against its chaos. We see this in today’s Gospel. We last saw Martha in Luke’s Gospel, too busy with her domestic tasks to listen to Jesus’s teaching— but not to busy to complain about her sister not helping. Now she meets Jesus alone on the road, her household chores forgotten, and simply says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would never have died.”

She challenges him out of her pain. Intense grief calls forth the deepest questions of our faith. Instead of closing herself off and becoming bitter, Martha allows her pain to open her to Jesus’s challenge to believe. In the light of her faith in him, Jesus hears and accepts her challenge to his power over death.

Mary, too, can be present to Jesus only in the depths of her grief and suffering. Gone is the time of leisure when she would sit quietly at his feet while he talked of the kingdom. Mary challenges him with the wordless power of her tears and stirs him to compassion. This, perhaps more than anything else, reveals the true source of his power and strength.

The love poured out in this scene at Bethany will be exceeded only in the love poured out in the blood from the cross. Only great love can challenge the darkness of death itself.

Like Mary and Martha, we have to be able to see through and beyond the intensity of our pain. While it might seem as though we’re even challenging even God, in truth we’re simply expressing our belief in God’s word: “I have promised and I will do it.” Like Jesus we have to use all the strength compassionate love gives us to call those around us to a newer and fuller life.

Death always startles us with its suddeness, its finality. Even when a loved one has been sick for a long time and death comes as a release and relief for both the one suffering and those left behind, the initial reaction is one of shock and dismay. In cases of sudden, tragic, accidental death, this reaction is magnified. We who believe in the resurrection are no less likely to experience this very human reaction. We resonate with Martha’s response to Jesus about her belief in the resurrection at the end of time. Our minds and our faith tell us one thing, our hearts and our bodies often balk at the separation and loss, all too real in the moment, even if not for eternity.

Like so much of our spiritual lives, we have to learn to live with this paradox. We see it differently at different times in our life. When we’re young, death is an infrequent and scary interruption of life. When we’re old, it can seem like we’ve seen too much death over the course of a long life and it becomes almost unbearable in its familiarity. A blessed few among us learn to embrace it with faith and equanimity.

We might envy Mary and Martha in their experience of their brother being restored to life. The Gospels don’t tell us what happened afterward, because the far greater event of Jesus’ resurrection now takes center stage. And there’s no more need for envy, because what Jesus experienced, we will all experience. This is the promise that’s at the heart of our faith. It’s what allows us to celebrate our loved ones even in their passing, because we know that life, not death, is the final reality.


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Apollonia: The persecution of Christians began in Alexandria during the reign of the Emperor Philip. The first victim of the pagan mob was an old man named Metrius, who was tortured and then stoned to death. The second person who refused to worship their false idols was a Christian woman named Quinta. Her words infuriated the mob and she was scourged and stoned. 
<p>While most of the Christians were fleeing the city, abandoning all their worldly possessions, an old deaconess, Apollonia, was seized. The crowds beat her, knocking out all of her teeth. Then they lit a large fire and threatened to throw her in it if she did not curse her God. She begged them to wait a moment, acting as if she was considering their requests. Instead, she jumped willingly into the flames and so suffered martyrdom.</p><p>There were many churches and altars dedicated to her. Apollonia is the patroness of dentists, and people suffering from toothache and other dental diseases often ask her intercession. She is pictured with a pair of pincers holding a tooth or with a golden tooth suspended from her necklace. St. Augustine explained her voluntary martyrdom as a special inspiration of the Holy Spirit, since no one is allowed to cause his or her own death.</p> American Catholic Blog We can find Christ among the despised, voiceless, and forgotten of the world. We have to move beyond that which we wish to ignore and forget about: embrace the seemingly un-embraceable, love the unlovable, and dare to know what we most fear and wish to leave unknowable.

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