“Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Whenever I read this gospel, I can feel the anxiousness of Mary and Martha. I too, just want Jesus to get there. I want Him to touch Lazarus before it’s too late—even though I know the rest of the story! But I guess I so identify with the worried state of Martha and Mary that in this circumstance, I find it difficult to accept Jesus’ decision.
Martha, Mary and Lazarus were good friends with Jesus. They supported His ministry; they traveled with Him at times and opened their house to Him when He was in the area. More important than all of that, they saw what He did and they knew His power. They knew He could and would heal a sick person, even if they were a complete stranger. Surely He would rush to the aid of his dear friend.
So they waited. Hours passed, then days and then even more days and of coarse, Lazarus died. In fact, by the time Jesus finally arrived, Lazarus had been dead for 4 days. This is significant because in that culture, it was believed that a dead person’s spirit hung around for three days. The term “four days” was shorthand for “the situation is now, hopeless”.
Disappointment is too weak a word to describe the state of mind of Martha and Mary. Devastated is more like it. The first thing the two sisters each said to Jesus when He arrived was “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” We can be sure that some of the tears that Martha and Mary shed were tainted with anger and frustration at the seeming neglect of Jesus to deal with their emergency.
We have all felt what they were feeling. We have all struggled with the “if-only’s”. We would love to go back and have a re-do. Or at the least we want to know the answers. Why did God permit this to happen? Where was He when we or our loved one needed Him most? Could there have been a different outcome? We also may be angry. And it is OK to be afraid, to mourn, to cry and it is even OK to be angry. It is not disbelief that causes these emotions—in fact they come from our belief that God could or would rescue us. If anyone knew the big picture, it was Jesus and yet grief consumed even Him. Jesus wept. Our Lord felt sorrow. He has wept at loss. And He understands anger. We won’t be judged for having those kind of feelings. When God weeps, His grace abounds in us.
But we can’t help it. We want Jesus in the “right now” of our lives. Martha and Mary and even Lazarus felt, I imagine, alone and abandoned—left to cope with this tragedy without the support of their best friend. They felt that way—but was that really the case? As we read the story, we find that Jesus was really with them in thought the entire time. When God watches, when He is aware of our trouble, He is there, He is with us. And when God is with us, His very presence blesses our suffering. We are not alone. Whatever our trouble, God is nearby. If we are facing illness or uncertainty or debt or marital struggles—if we are in grief or fear or worry or loneliness, Christ is with us—Christ has His eye on us.
We were never promised that life would be a breeze but that God will be with us no matter what we face—right here, right now, today, tomorrow, next week. He is here and He knows what we need.
Some centuries ago, a Christian woman, Julian of Norwich, put it this way: “God said not, ‘Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be afflicted’, but God said, ‘Thou shalt not be overcome.’”
Yes, we would like action. Just as Mary and Martha were frustrated that Jesus didn’t show up in time, likewise, we would like things to happen now. It is only human to make plans and to hope they will occur in a timely manner. It is only human to think that our plan is the best plan. But, that turned out not to be true for Mary & Martha. Our plan is not the only plan out there—God has a plan for us too. And we are at our best when we simply let Him handle the situation. His plan is the best plan. His plan is what will really work for us.
And God has a plan for glory that is bigger than any of us can imagine. His plan is to raise us up when our hope is lost, when our courage fails, when life comes down hard on us. What we are experiencing is not the end. There is much more to come—and we will see God’s glory in it.
When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He was showing us the truth. There is a heaven, and we will be with Him there. He does have the power to raise us from this life on earth to the new life in heaven.
What appears impossible to the human mind is possible with God. It is what Martha and Mary and Lazarus soon discovered.
Trust Him with whatever your burden is and ask Him for help. He is your strength and your direction; He will bring light to your darkness. And He will breathe on you as He gives you life in Him. It is the breath of the Spirit that He gave to the first human in the garden; and to the dry bones in the valley of Ezekiel and the long dead body of Lazarus. It is the breath that was breathed into Jesus crucified, lifting Him to resurrection life. It is the breath of the Spirit that comes into us at Baptism and Confirmation and any time that we ask for His nearer presence. Paul spoke of it in our reading from Romans.
It is difficult for us to be patient and to focus on the glory ahead. We live in the now. Even Martha who spoke her belief to Jesus, who had seen His miracles and believed solidly in life beyond, still was reluctant to move that stone from Lazarus’s grave. Jesus had to remind her to believe.
By waiting until the time was right, Jesus was able to lift up all who were present at that gravesite and to empower them—as Jesus says “so that you may believe”. And it becomes a certainty when He appears to His disciples in His own resurrection. Jesus says “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” We can put our trust in Christ in all things.
We can put our hand in His hand. We can be sure that His promises are true. God has sent our Lord Jesus to be our Savior, that we may live forever.
Readings for today: Ezekiel 37:1-14 Psalm 130 Romans 8:6-11 John 11:1-45