Martha’s brother, Lazarus, still dead. Martha believes Jesus can do something about it because he is the promised Messiah, the bringer of life. But instead of pleading with Jesus, Martha now goes to find her sister, Mary. In John 11, verses 28-37, we read about the result of the sisters’ conversation.
“And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. ‘The Teacher is here,’ she said, ‘and is asking for you.’ When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there. When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked. ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’
Martha’s sister, Mary, has been observing the traditional Jewish ritual of mourning the passing of a loved one, a ritual that could last for days. Now with Martha’s info, Mary goes out to meet Jesus too. Mary, like her sister, is full of faith in Jesus. She declares that if Jesus had been there sooner, Lazarus would not have died. But there is a slight difference between Mary’s and Martha’s statements. Mary seems to view Lazarus’ passing as a done deal, something Jesus absolutely had the power to handle, but only in the past. Martha views Lazarus’ passing as temporary, something Jesus had the power to handle in the present. Martha seems to have a more developed view of Jesus’ power.
Before we get to that ultimate moment of the story, we need to see Jesus as John describes him in verses 33 and 35. Jesus is deeply, deeply affected by the passing of his friend, as he is deeply affected by the painful loss of the women who are also his friends. This is an important reminder to us that Jesus was both fully God and fully human. He experienced emotion. He cried. He is familiar with the depths of human struggle and emotion. He knows what it feels like to lose someone close to him.
Jesus is not jaded by his power. You’d think that a guy who just heal everyone would grow callous about sickness and death, as if it is nothing. He knew could do something about it, so why would he feel upset about it? Yet, Jesus still felt the loss, and he felt empathy with those, his friends Mary and Martha, who had also lost their brother.
Some have wondered if Jesus is weeping, at least in part, because of the lack of faith he sees around him. Maybe. John doesn’t explicitly tell us that, so it makes more sense to me that Jesus in his sympathy and empathy is caught up in the emotion of this very intense situation. Have you ever started crying when someone else starts crying? Even if you don’t fully understand or feel all they feel, your heart goes out to them, and you start crying too. It’s contagious, isn’t it? Why? Because it is some automated response we cannot control? No, it is because we humans have sympathy and empathy, so that we mourn with those mourn and we rejoice with those who rejoice. Frankly, it is a wonderfully beautiful way that God has created us. Jesus had this too. Jesus wept.
As our story continues, the moment has come for Jesus to visit the grave of his friend. What happens there is amazing, and we’ll learn about that in the next post.
Photo by Mayank Dhanawade on Unsplash