This Sunday is Lazarus Sunday.
And in the midst of the miracle, a female leader in the Christian community makes a confession of faith that is grounded in hard-earned wisdom and the fierce attention she has paid to her lived experience. Hallelujah for women who give honor to their lived experiences.
The writer of John was a poet, a lyricist, an artist painting a picture to compel all readers to believe that “Jesus is the Messiah.” Such is the stated goal of this Gospel (John 20:31). And it is out of Martha’s mouth that the author first notes these words in his Gospel. It’s a moment worthy of pause.
Martha’s confession comes amidst all this drama with Lazarus being dead now for four days (the stench!), a weeping sister, and right when things are heating up for Jesus politically; it seems “some Jews” in Judea are out for his life. In the midst of the drama, here comes an intimate exchange between friends. “Do you believe?” Jesus essentially asks. And the words that come from her mouth strike me. “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ.“
As a woman steeped in Jewish tradition, Martha has been waiting for the Messiah. Perhaps she had in her mind the type of person this might be. Perhaps it was like Jesus. Perhaps not. Nonetheless, she states that she has *come to believe.* It has been a journey. It’s through experiences, conversations, interactions with Jesus that she has come to believe. To me, this phrase implies that this belief is not something self-created. It is not mental gymnastics or solid theological training. She did not believe because someone told her to. It’s the belief that comes from life experience. It’s heart-level, human-level belief. “I have come to believe.
This Gospel was first composed in Greek and the original word in Martha’s confession is pepisteuka. This is Greek for believed. It is only used twice in the Bible. (2 Tim 2:1-12 is the other spot).
There is a different word in Greek to communicate sureness or confidence (pietho). This is not confidence or sureness. This is pepisteuka. Come to believe.
The author is drawing each of us into this exchange with Jesus. In the simple one-line responses from both Jesus and Martha, the author invites us into simple conversation with Jesus. Jesus wants to know our belief. Not to measure it against a creed or squeeze our minds through logical rationalizations or superficial claims of understanding. But to be present to the workings of our hearts, our deep understandings of our life experiences and encounters.