Mary had collapsed in grief at Jesus’ feet, broken hearted over her brother’s death, and equally hurt over Jesus’ delay. She was certain that had Jesus been there, Lazarus would have received the Master’s healing touch, and come through stronger than ever. That Jesus had not come, that he had instead sent a message that seemed patently false, spiritual-sounding, but empty of any real meaning, had cut her to the bone.
“If you were here,” she had sobbed, her voice muffled at his feet, “my brother would not have died.” The unspoken meaning was very clear. Jesus’ special relationship with Mary, as one of his female disciples, his special relationship with all three of them—whom he had claimed he loved—had been given even less care than the countless undeserving strangers who clamored for his attention.
Had it really been so very much more important to preach and baptize by the Jordan River’s banks than to come to them in Bethany and pray over her brother? Her brother? How could he have been so uncaring?
It seems the sisters had talked openly about their message to Jesus, and his message back to them, “This malady is not toward death, but rather in behalf of the glory of God in order that the Son of God might be glorified through this.” If he had meant to give them any comfort, any solace, he had not.
Had Jesus only been there.
For Martha, the hurt came from knowing Lazarus’ crisis of health would not have ended in crushing surrender to death. For Mary, it had been just this, the felt betrayal of love.
Jesus Was Disturbed in Spirit
Yet, when Jesus beheld her loud lamenting and those who were assembled with her, Judeans sobbing, he was deeply disturbed, sternly agitated in the spirit and himself troubled.
Then, he said, “Where have you all laid him?” They said to him, “Sir, come and see.”
Jesus, to Mary and those with her, John 11:33-34
I stop here, because I am disturbed that Jesus was disturbed. The word itself is troubling.
ἐμβριμάομαι—Strong’s Concordance explains this word as meaning “to have indignation on, i.e. (transitively) to blame, (intransitively) to sigh with chagrin,(specially) to sternly enjoin”
Abbott-Smith has a slightly different angle: “to snort in (of horses, Æsch.), hence, to speak or act with deep feeling (DCG, i, 62b);
“(a) to be moved with anger (cf. La 2:6): c. dat., Mk 14:5, Jo 11:33; ἐν ἑαυτῷ, Jo 11:38;
“(b) to admonish sternly: c. dat., Mt 9:30, Mk 1:43.”
For a moment, I thought with horror that Jesus might actually have snorted angrily! But John was careful to record that Jesus’ indignation was in the spirit (Jesus’ own spirit, or in the Holy Spirit? Or both?)
But, do you see what I mean? So many emotions might have believably gone into that sentence—how about distraught? Or distressed? Something that feels more empathetic and understanding.
But angry? Indignant? That something was somehow blameworthy and to be admonished?
Somewhere in all this, tears began to stream down Jesus’ own cheeks, as the shortest verse in the entire Bible describes, Jesus wept, John 11:35. John used a different word for Jesus’ tears than for the other’s loud expressions of grief and pain. Jesus silently wept.
And there was Jesus, tears streaming down his face as he followed Mary, Martha, and the entire mourning entourage to the tomb of his beloved friend, Lazarus.
Outraged and grieved.
He was moved by his love for this family and for their pain, and outraged by death itself—this is not what the Lord desired for God’s creation.
Loss and Death
I think about all the times I have dealt with a loss, and the losses many are experiencing right now. Loss of a job, or a home, or a relationship, or someone close who is dying. Or has died. Loss and death. The death of a dream, the death of a vision, death of a career.
And there are so many deaths and losses that seem irreparable, that forever mark us, that set us on a course we feel we can never turn back from, the loss of innocence, or trust, or honor, the loss of our good name, or credit, or ability. Physically disabled, financially disabled, emotionally or mentally disabled.
I think of those times of transition, when something big is changing in life, changing from one season to a different season in life. For me, changing from a single woman to a married woman, to a mother, and then to a house emptying one by one of the children I gave my own life to. I remember watching the last one go, weeping silently, disturbed to the point of despair. Who was I now? Why was it considered normal and right for our most significant relationships to turn on a dime like this?
I did not, in the moment, see how that last transition into a new season was for the Lord’s glory, and for my own great good (I knew it was for the great good of my children, but somehow, that was not enough to keep me from disconsolation).
And there have been other changes, too. Moving to a new home, entering a new job, starting school and completing school, bringing a new person into the world, bringing a pet home to love and care for. Even small changes and small seasonal shifts can feel momentous and meaningful, like festivals and holidays, birthdays.
All change is also loss.
Each change is loss of what was as we move into what is, and face what it seems must be.
A Time to be Born, a Time to Die
As the wisdom teacher said, to all things there is a season,
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NRSV)
This is a wisdom both Marth and Mary knew, and Lazarus as well. As a godly family, they embraced the scriptures, and had heard these words read many times throughout their lives. Yet, all three felt the sting and victory of death. And Lazarus was young! A man of good character, of strength and vitality.
And who is ever ready, anyway, to say goodbye forever to the ones we love?
When the reader of hearts and discerner of souls saw Mary’s broken heart, Jesus responded by crying with her, empathizing deeply with her pain.
Throughout the Bible God does this, God is outraged over the damage that sin, corruption, and death inflicts on God’s people, and God feels deeply all the heartache you and I go through.
[Jesus Wept | The Brooklyn Museum, James Tissot / Public Domain]