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A friend of Jesus

· Martha, the saint of the month, retold by Mariapia Veladiano ·

I did not miss a word. Rumours about Him came from all sides: He healed a leper and a man possessed by the devil. He said that the Son of man must suffer, die and rise again. And then He repeated: suffer, die and rise again. Miracles did not impress me much, so many magicians, braggarts, and pedlars of miracles would pass by on the street and bewitch the squares. Then everyone would talk about nothing for days on end; each and everyone, their soul hanging on the desire for the promised Messiah. He must be a king.

Johannes (Jan) Vermeer, “Christ in the House of Martha and Mary”

He must work miracles, drive out enemies, restore the earth. Anything but die. For words can be heard clearly, but without understanding. However one thinks better while the hands are busy and it seems to me that this is exactly what was promised, a Messiah familiar with our fear of suffering, of dying and of nothing having meaning. I talked about it to Mary who was helping me and every now and then would daydream, gazing into the distance.

Furthermore, news of a strange and scandalous healing had arrived. The story was vague, the travellers embroidered it. It was a man with a withered hand, they said, perhaps with both hands and feet withered, a paralytic. But then it was clear that it was one hand, the right hand, and that He had healed him on the Sabbath, in the synagogue in everyone’s sight. And everyone marvelled because it was the Sabbath and in the synagogue – blasphemy on the holy day – but I, rather, looked at my own right hand that obeys me in all the precise movements of my work, thousands and thousands of times a day and an hour, and I imagined it dead, inert, with the fingers unnaturally extended, they could not grasp the bread out of reach, or comb the hair of little Mary, my sister. And then instead the plague ended and my hand returned to being alive, alive, alive. And if He could do this on the Sabbath in the synagogue it was He; so how is it that the others didn’t realize this? Only those who don’t know how precious a hand is. The hand of God. The right hand of God that works miracles.

I also spoke of this to Mary, while we were doing our work together, the bread to be kneaded with our four blessed hands. Lazarus was listening and told us what he had gathered. Then one day he told us that He was coming here. He was not alone, there was an indeterminate group of people with Him. I wanted to see Him. I wanted to hear what He was saying and see Him. I had realized it was Him. Good heavens! If His followers were so numerous – those who loved Him, who were curious, who stayed to see. But I made it quite clear that He would be welcome in our house. I had prepared myself, the previous day, together with Mary I had put bread to rise for a large number of people; and they had arrived, good gracious, how many of them there were! They couldn’t fit into the house. Many stayed outside it, in front of it, but they were our guests. One does not welcome a teacher and then abandon him so Mary stayed with Him, with them, and I fetched bread and water for them all. Of course I was tired, but I did not notice it, as happens when one is happy, except that I didn’t manage to serve all of them. And Mary would have been sorry not to have helped. I knew her well. That’s why I summoned her. But while coming and going I listened and looked at Him while He was eating and yet I missed some of His words.

We were friends of Jesus after that meeting. And so was Lazarus. Friends for ever!

Therefore when Lazarus fell ill we let Him know about it. It did not seem serious to us, it was to tell Him that His friend was ill, He had healed so many sick people. There were no thoughts of death. The word wasn’t even mentioned. And instead Lazarus our brother died, the stone was rolled to separate us for ever from his body that was still beautiful, our hands had washed it and knew it. Those who have brothers can understand the inner space that is still bent over to make room for his body that is lacking.

So when I heard that He was coming to Bethany I ran to Him. He had also brought some other people back to life. But one does not know what to say when the emptiness left by the one who is no longer is all around one and even in heaven.

“Your brother will rise again”, He said to me immediately. And here too I understood. “I believe”, I also said straight away. I believe.

However I made Him repeat it more clearly. He would not only rise again on the last day but on this very day. This is what I wanted to hear and when He said it I called Mary. We are sisters – different, our love is at times lopsided in order to make room and to find room. It sometimes suggests words to us, to our surprise it makes us say the same thing: “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died”. She said it too. He can do it, Lazarus will rise again, He is the Messiah.

Then I smelled the odour at the tomb and I was afraid that it would happen and afraid that it would not happen; afraid of hoping and of not being able to survive afterwards. How is it possible to survive after seeing God?

Lazarus came back. And He too knew in His friend Lazarus that he would come back, and that death is not the last word. Who knows whether this would have helped Him on the Cross?

Women friends of Jesus. Free to serve. Free to be served. Free to listen. Free to tell. I am Martha, a friend of Jesus and the sister of Mary and of all the Marthas called Mary, Lucy, Valentina, Deborah, Alberta, Elizabeth or Julia. I am a friend of Jesus.

The writer, Mariapia Veladiano (Vicenza, 1960) holds a degree in philosophy and a licence in fundamental theology. She taught literature for more than 20 years at a professional institute. Today she lives in Rovereto. Her books include: La vita accanto (2011), Il tempo è un dio breve (2012), Ma come tu resisti, vita (2013), Parole di scuola (2014). For us she wrote Santa Teresa Benedetta della Croce (August-September 2012).

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