There is a taste of rebellion to it: to wonder about your own name. After all, you don’t choose your name, your parents do. And the Heavenly Father guides them to that choice. It has always been so.
Would our fathers have fought as valiantly to win the Promised Land if they had not had a constant reminder that it is the Lord that saves? That was the name of the great general, Joshua. Would David the shepherd have risen against the giant, would David the King have withstood persecution from enemies from without and within, if he had ever doubted that he was beloved of the Lord?
The Name ordains every name; it tells the story of your life. Hasn’t it always been so?
Then why am I “bitter”?
That or rebellious. At least that’s what Martha used to call me when she’d get mad at me. She didn’t mean to… be mad. It was hard work to run the house after Mama died; do all that and deal with two little kids. But she did well. Dad always told her so. And he always told me that she didn’t mean it, that Mom always called me her myrrh, her precious perfume. It is bitter because it’s fiery; not rebellious, fiery.
‘It’s not rebellious to choose your way, when most others take a different way. Oh, they’ll want you to go along. But you, you listen to the One who made you who you are.’ I can almost hear him still. Dad. He died too.
It could have been hard, but Lazarus has always done his best; and Martha, well, she manages everything just right.
That is his mother’s name too. They say I’m pretty. She’s beautiful, through and through. She says so little, but you can tell in her eyes she understands it all. John says she knew from the beginning, that she had been warned by an old prophet in the Temple about a sword that’d pierce her heart. How could you live like that, knowing that your name was right? But she’s never been bitter. His love, you can see it in her eyes. His smile, you can see it in her lips. His determination, you can see it in her brow. She knows, and yet she walks with hope. And his friends don’t have a clue.
That’s unkind. Maybe they do. I think John does.
He’s been writing it all down from the beginning. Who ever heard of a fisherman scribe? No; fishing was just childhood training, like shepherding for David. John was meant to tell, to tell of the graciousness of the Lord. The way he talks to everybody, the way he listens, the way he cares; everybody likes him. I think someday he’ll be a prophet. Will they still like him then?
Yes, John knows.
Because if I know from all he has told me, all he has heard, then he knows. But it is a bitter thought, easier put off.
I think he knew since that day when the Master told the crowd they had to eat his flesh and drink his blood. It was a scandal, easy to call it madness and take the way out, the way that kept you friends. How long would they have wavered between two opinions? He gave them a way out; maybe – John said – so they could see clearly and choose to come back. The ones who stayed began to understand that the food of those who would choose freedom is seasoned with bitter spices and eaten in haste.
How swift it has been, the journey into light; how soon its ending!
Yet, didn’t we know all along it would end this way? Why else would it take carrying a cross to follow him? Why would it take losing your life to find it? He has said it more than once: unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many.
It seems like yesterday that he asked them, who do men say that I am? And – then and there – he told them how it would end, because that’s who he is, the wheat, the bread that must be consumed to give life.
Peter argued, but not for long. And the day none of them talks about (something glorious happened on the mountain), he told them not to tell, until the day that he rises from the dead. And they debated many days what that meant, as if the real glory were not in the end. Even at the foot of that mountain, when their faith fell short but his overcame, he told them again: He, the one who holds the power of victory, he chooses to come to the end.
He’s going to do it.
I know John knows. But he expects, he hopes, that – at the last minute – the promise of Daniel will come true. Yes, the promise will come true, but not the one John wants, not the one about the clouds.
This is why He let my brother die; so I would understand. And even though my Lazarus sits here with us again, as if the fever had never been, it still hurts when I remember, because that day wasn’t about him.
A word from the Master that day, when he first heard, just a word from that far would have saved him. But that’s not the way it is going to be for him. Angels would answer. But they will not be called. He won’t let them be called. The wheat must be crushed, the olives beaten for their oil, the perfume kneaded in, and then the fire must burn it all… because it is only in fragrant smoke that the grain-offering satisfies the Lord. And the salt, you can’t forget the salt.
It must stand for the tears.
Like her tears.
Her name is Mara, too. She was bitter too.
How different was her dinner, and yet how much like this one tonight. Simeon, the name of the host in both: Ours, called a leper for the sickness he once bore on his skin. The other, a Pharisee, sick with a leprosy none could see within. And she, shunned and despised, walked into that darkness in search of his light. The hem of his garment, someone had told her, would be enough. Yes, that, even weighed down with shame, that she could reach, and lay her treasure down at his feet.
But then, kneeling there, she saw those feet muddied and bruised from the road. It shouldn’t be so. Her hair for a towel, her hands for a basin; and perfume and tears flowed. She washed away the mud and the filth, not knowing that it was her heart she was baring clean. She kissed those feet unloved by the world, not knowing that they had already crushed the serpent’s head within her soul. She who loved much, that day was forgiven much.
How much I need that touch! And yet He will go.
I cannot hold Him back. I cannot bear the thought of saying goodbye. But I’m Mara just like her, and my perfume is the same as hers, and the name of the house is the same. And, really, my heart is the same. For the way he talks about love and forgiveness and whole-hearted devotion to G-d, no one comes close; we all fall short. We all are sick, but He came here for us.
It is an echo, isn’t it? It always has been. The name of my town, that is what it means, isn’t it? Beth Anoth: House of Echoes. That’s why I know.
I can hear them all, echoes in my life, echoes of years gone by: echoes of spotless lambs, and Abraham’s ram, caught by the forehead on thistles and thorns.
No, it can’t be so, to lay upon Him the sin of us all? No!
But it will be so. The bread of life will be crushed; and all I can do is pour on Him the perfume and the oil and the salt.