03 March 2008

Bible portraits: Lazarus (Part 1)

Bethany is not a large community by any standards. Sometimes I think the only way people know we exist is that we are the first stop on the winding road that leads from Jerusalem to Jericho. I suppose you could hardly say we are a stop, located as we are a mere two miles from Jerusalem, just the other side of the Mount of Olives. Although, when Jerusalem is especially crowded as it very well can be at times such as Passover, Bethany can be a handy spot to hang your hat.

Many people consider that the best feature of Bethany—its closeness to Jerusalem. I suppose it is convenient to know that just half an hour away you have all the amenities of a large city. Yet for me and for most of us who live here, what we like most about Bethany is its smallness. None of the anonymity or the dirt or the crime of the city here! Bethany is small enough that we can all know one another, and as a result there is a great deal of caring that goes on. In many ways we are more like a large household than a village. Besides that, nearly all our families have lived here for generations, so that most of us are related in one way or another.

Nothing can happen here without someone finding out about it pretty quickly. So it was, when one of our most prominent townsfolk, Lazarus, was confined to bed, everybody knew about it. For many of us it did not come as a surprise. We had noticed for a while that Lazarus was not looking himself. Normally he was robust and cheerful, full of energy, the life of the party. He always had time to listen and he would never withhold his help when someone was in trouble or in need. Yet recently he had become withdrawn. He seemed tired, and the color had gradually drained from his face. No one knew what the matter was. And you don’t like to ask in those situations for fear of appearing nosy or intrusive. So we watched as Lazarus gradually went downhill, not knowing what to think or say or do.

Of course his two sisters cared for him wonderfully. Martha has to be the finest cook in town. There is nothing that can equal her fatted fowl or broiled fish with vegetable and herb broth. One of the greatest pleasures was to be invited to Martha’s home for a meal. You knew you would leave more than satisfied. And when Martha cooked for a festival or a social occasion the whole village would be permeated with the delicious aromas that emanated from her kitchen.

Lazarus’ other sister Mary was a total contrast. She was hopeless around the house. Yet she was universally respected as a woman of prayer. Long before anyone else had arisen and long after most of us had retired for the night, you could see the glow of the little oil lamp in Mary’s room as she stood before the Lord in prayer. Mary’s prayer life was such that there were many who, if we had a particular need, would come to her and ask her to pray for us. And we knew that she would pray tirelessly, unceasingly, and bring our needs before the throne of the Lord. If anyone’s prayers in our village were heard, they had to be Mary’s.

So Lazarus could not have been in better hands with his two sisters, the one making sure that he was properly fed and cared for, the other praying for him night and day. Nevertheless, when we heard that he had become too weak to rise from his bed, we began to realize that what was wrong with Lazarus was something that even the best care in the world could not alleviate.

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