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.”John 11:32-37 (NIV)
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.
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?”
It’s famously the shortest verse in the Bible – the verse that lazy Sunday School kids trot out when tasked with memorising Scripture.
It may be brief, but boy, do those two words pack a punch.
The setting: One of Jesus’ close friends in Bethany, Lazarus, has tragically fallen ill and died. And worse, Jesus wasn’t even there for him during his final days. Visiting a neighbouring town, Jesus received word of Lazarus’ illness, but chose not to return to Bethany sooner.
When he does arrive back, Lazarus’ sisters Martha and Mary, also dear friends of Jesus, cry out to him in anguish. Why weren’t you there? Why couldn’t you save him? They are desperately grieving for the loss of their brother, and wanting to understand how it all went wrong. They can’t understand why their friend – and the one they called Savior – seemed to leave them all alone in their darkest hour.
Now, we know how this story ends. We know that only a few verses later, Jesus gives the triumphal cry of “Lazarus, come out!” – and miraculously, Lazarus rises from the dead.
But before we get to that extraordinary finale, we have this curious moment, where Jesus…
Jesus grieves alongside Mary and Martha, even knowing what will happen next.
Jesus doesn’t diminish Mary and Martha for their grief. He doesn’t tell them that their sadness comes from a lack of faith. He reminds Martha of her faith, yes, and asks her to reassert her belief in him (see earlier verses 21–27), but there is no reprimand there, just comfort and reassurance; a gentle but powerful declaration of hope in the midst of her despair.
Nor is he aloof from or unaffected by their emotion. No, he shares in their sadness, and this is perhaps the most confounding thing, because we see from earlier verses that he knows Lazarus will be raised. It seems reasonable to expect that Jesus would stride in, say, don’t worry! I’ve got it all under control! and simply cut straight to the resurrection part. Isn’t that what we would do, given the ability? If we’ve got the power to fix things, then surely we should just get on with the fixing! Why waste time crying, grieving, over something that’s going to get better soon?
Jesus shows us by example here what it is to be fully present in each moment. In this particular moment, there was pain and grief that needed acknowledgment. In the moment that followed, there would be miraculous healing and joy – but they weren’t there yet. And so Jesus demonstrates his love for Lazarus, Mary, and Martha by sitting in this present moment of grief for Lazarus’ death – even though doing so means experiencing the same pain and heartbreak that his friends are suffering.
Christ doesn’t consider himself above grieving alongside his friends. Christ does not separate himself from this painful emotion; no, he walks through it with Mary and Martha, feeling every bit of distress that they are at the loss of Lazarus. When Jesus sees Mary weeping, he is “deeply moved and troubled”, writes John. God is with us in our pain and grief.
We’re told that many saw the raising of Lazarus, and believed in Jesus as a result. No doubt they were amazed and in awe of such a miracle.
But those who witnessed the moment just beforehand, when Jesus wept, said this: “See how he loved him!”
And that, right there, reveals to us so much about the character of God. Christ responds to us in each moment by choosing love, even if it’s painful. God doesn’t rush to smooth things over, diminishing us in the process. God sits and weeps with us first, letting us know that we truly are not alone. That demonstration of love takes precedence over any miracles, any demonstration of power.
Blessed are we when our impulse is to love first, before trying to fix things, even if we are derided as weak and ineffective for doing so. Blessed are we when we understand that this is as much a part of any healing as the ‘fixing’ itself.