John 11: 1-45 NRSV
Now a certain man was ill…so the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” ….Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days….Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”….When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep.
How familiar Mary and Martha’s request of Jesus seems. We ask God for something we think is in line with something God would want, but we don’t get the result that we want. Then we complain to God, “If only you had done what I asked, the world would be a better place.” It is all about “our” timetable and understanding. If we put ourselves into the story, we wonder, why did Jesus wait two days, knowing Lazarus was so ill? Why didn’t he act immediately and save Mary, Martha, and friends from inconsolable grief? Why does God let seemingly bad things happen?
In this instance, Jesus had a different purpose in mind. He knew that Lazarus was not going to be forever dead. He knew there was a larger message to convey about God’s power.
It is easy to conclude that God often has plans beyond our comprehension. But how do we account for Jesus’ seeming lack of empathy in the beginning of the story? It is only when Jesus sees Mary and her friends weeping, that he is “greatly disturbed in spirit and moved…and begins to weep.” Was Jesus not compassionate from the beginning?
This passage reflects a thread found through the Hebrew Scriptures. Sometimes, God seems to wait to bring about justice. God (finally) hears the cry of his people enslaved in Egypt. God (finally) grants an interview to Job. Jesus weeps only after Lazarus has been dead for four days. God does not always act immediately to “right” a situation. That is hard to accept. But this story contains the hope that ultimately God does hear us, and does empathize with us. God works things out in a way that perhaps only He understands.
To God be the Glory.
Gracious God, we know that you hear our prayers. Help us to be patient as we wait to understand your answer as it unfolds. Amen.