Mary Magdalene, Martha, Lazarus and Maximinus Worshipped by the Prince and Princess of Provence and Mary Magdalene Listening to Christ's Sermon,
Painted by Ludovico (Alvise) de Donati (1450-1534),
Painted circa 1508,
Tempera on canvas
© Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona
I am the resurrection and the life
Many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to sympathise with them over their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus had come she went to meet him. Mary remained sitting in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘If you had been here, my brother would not have died, but I know that, even now, whatever you ask of God, he will grant you.’ ‘Your brother’ said Jesus to her ‘will rise again.’ Martha said, ‘I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said:
‘I am the resurrection and the life.
If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live,
and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?’
‘Yes, Lord,’ she said ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.’
Reflection on the two paintings
On 26th January 2021, Pope Francis ordered the inscription of Saints Martha, Mary and Lazarus into the General Roman Calendar, to replace the existing celebration of Saint Martha alone. So today is the memorial of this family, all three being very close friends of Jesus. In its 2021 decree on combining veneration of Mary and Lazarus with Martha, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments said, "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.”
Our two panels dating from around 1508, by Ludovico de Donati, depict two scenes. The left panel depicts the commissioners of these paintings, the Prince and Princess of Provence, greeting Mary, Martha and Lazarus. The right panel depicts Mary listening to Christ’s sermon. I do think this right panel is very interesting, depicting Christ himself standing in the pulpit. Though we are not sure if Mary of Bethany (the sister of Lazarus and Mary mentioned in our reading today), is the same person as Mary Magdalene, artists have often treated her as being the same.
Today’s powerful gospel reading also holds one of the most profound statements by Christ: ‘I am the resurrection and the life’. This is the essence of our faith… and he said these words to his very best and closest friend, Martha. Together with her, we can say ‘‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the resurrection and the life’.
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Readings related to John 11:19-27
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