This week in my reading through the Bible, I arrived at John 11 - the story of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. This has become a treasured passage for me over the years as I walk through seasons of loss and grief and confusion.
Jesus said Lazarus' sickness "is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." (11:4) - which echoes of 9:3 when Jesus said the man was born blind not because of sin, but so that "the works of God might be displayed in him."
11:5-6 - "Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. SO, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was." (Isn't that "so" intriguing??)
Martha and Mary both independently say the exact same thing to Jesus, word for word. "If you had been here, my brother would not have died." (11:21, 11:32)
The Jews who are there echo this statement in 11:37 - "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also kept this man from dying?"
Although Martha and Mary come to Jesus with the exact same question, His response to them is very different. Jesus reassures Martha that Lazarus will rise again, and tells her "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live..." and then asks her if she believes this and gives an opportunity for her to affirm her faith in Him. With Mary, He "was deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled" and simply weeps.
Now, some personal reflections and conjectures on all of this.
Jesus loved them. So much. Not just in a universal way because He is loving - but He is their friend, He knows them... "SO" He delays his coming for two additional days, knowing Lazarus would die. Our suffering is never (NEVER) proof that He does not love us. His plans for His glory and our deeper belief are beyond what we can comprehend - and we can trust that He loves us and is with us in the midst of it.
Not only that - but He weeps with us. It is so striking to me that Jesus is weeping on the road with Mary, even though He knows He's going to call Lazarus out of that grave in a matter of minutes! He could have said, "It's ok, Mary, don't cry! Just wait and see what I'm going to do!" No, He just weeps with her. This is not the way He intended the world to be - it is broken and marred by sin and He is surrounded by people He deeply loves who are grieving - and He grieves for them and with them. Right now. Even though soon all will be made right. In seasons when well-intentioned "comforting" words from other Christians have felt trite or hurtful in the midst of our grieving, what an amazing thought that Jesus weeps with me and knows my pain and sees and cares. The hope we have makes all the difference - but grief and loss are real and He knows.
I also love that He comforts Mary and Martha so differently and individually. We know from other passages that Martha is a doer. She's going to get answers and get things done. So when she hears that Jesus is coming, she meets Him on the road with the statement/ question that has been burning on her mind - if you had been here… The fact that Mary and Martha both say the same exact thing word for word, along with the unbelieving Jews’ observations that Jesus could have kept him from dying, make me think that this was a topic of conversation in the house among the sisters and these well-meaning “comforters.” They were personal friends of Jesus’ - why didn’t He come? Maybe He wasn’t able to do anything and He knew it. Maybe they were foolish to trust and believe in Him.
From Jesus’ response to them, I’m convinced that Martha needed reassurance - reassurance that she was not believing Him in vain, that He was able, that He loved them like they thought He did. Because Jesus’ response to her is an invitation to believe and confess the truths she knew in her heart. And for her, this seems to be what she needed.
But Mary, Mary is the “sit at His feet” sister. Martha is a thinker. Mary is a feeler. She waits for Jesus to call her to come to Him. And when she says, “if you had been here” she seems to fall apart in front of Him. She doesn’t need rational reassurances at this point. She’s hurting. And Jesus simply weeps with her. Do you see how intensely personal that is?
Last year at this time we were heading to my husband’s sister’s funeral. After a long health battle she was home with Jesus. And while we were glad for her to not be suffering, our hearts were shattered for her husband and four high school and college-aged kids she left behind. Well-intentioned platitudes that “she is in a better place” stung and made me angry. Of course she is! But this is wrong - all wrong!! They were far too young to lose their mother!
In times like that, this passage comforts me in such a profound way. I don’t know what season of grief you may be in or you have gone through and struggled with why Jesus didn’t fix it or keep it from happening. But I love this story because it reminds me:
He loves us. What He does or chooses not to do is coming from a genuine love for us.
He sees us and knows what we need. He meets us in our grief in intensely personal ways when we come to Him with it.
The world was not supposed to be this way. Death feels foreign to our natures because it IS. And while we grieve with hope - we do grieve. And ache. And mourn. Jesus doesn’t explain that away with platitudes - He weeps with us.
And He IS the resurrection and the life.