So the sisters sent a message to Jesus,“Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 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. John 11:3-6
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” John 11:21
Jesus began to weep. So 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?” John 11:35-37
It is easy to just focus on the final part of this story. The resurrection of Lazarus seems like a happy ending to otherwise tragic tale. If we do this, this story has very little to say to us. The resurrection plays a small part in the story. The whole episode addresses so many intense and difficult questions that it is hard to stay focused on one thing. I will try to discipline my thoughts and limit myself to a question that was the subject of a conversation we had this week; the deafening silence of God. The silence that cannot be explained away.
The gospel story begins with the silence of Jesus. There was a sincere plea for help. Throughout the gospels we hear stories of Jesus healing people who had faith. Here were perfect candidates for healing, but instead, Jesus chose to wait. No one understood why. We can jump to the end of the story and say that Jesus wanted to resurrect Lazarus. We can happily say all’s well that ends well. However, there are many in this world who made the same heart wrenching plea for some salvation from a potentially tragic situation. They experienced the same silence as Mary and Martha.
I look at all our children and teens. Most of them are just regular children. They can be very sweet and kind at times and the next moment they become quite impossible. They are just ordinary children. None of them should be abandoned in the streets. Felipe is one of the kindest boys around and yet, he has been in the streets for the longest time. I am sure that he did not choose to be homeless. All of them at one point prayed for God to help them. Receiving silence, they took matters into their own hands. They ran away from their tormented homes and took refuge in the streets. They are Mary and Martha, but unlike them, they gave up waiting for Jesus. It doesn’t make them atheists. They just have a hard time believing that God listens to them. Mary and Martha hoped that Jesus would listen to them when they asked him to come. They knew Jesus loved them but His silence must have tormented them more than their brother’s demise.
One thing is consistent in the story. Jesus is influenced by no one. The disciples thought that it was dangerous for him to go to Bethany and Jesus refused to heed their warning. He gave them an enigmatic answer. They never fully understood him but they could not stop His determination to do what He knew to be right. No one was going to change His mind. Thomas was the first to realize this and said,
“Let us also go, that we may die with him.”(John 11:16)
This was not a sarcastic remark, although it does sound like one to me. Maybe it is because I am a sarcastic person. Thomas was just a realistic person. He knew the cost of following Jesus. He was merely stating the obvious. This Man was going to lead them to their death. It is a prophetic statement in a way. They were following a Man who was not domesticated by arguments or reasoning. He has His own way of looking at life. If we follow Him, then perhaps we must to be willing to give up the way we think things should be done. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when He said that we should die to ourselves. There can be no resurrection if there is no death.
Our children are Lazarus too. Something in them has died. They don’t have dreams anymore. They don’t believe in the happily-ever after tales. When I read the Grimm’s fairy tales to them, they laughed and said that it is all lies. They grew up too fast in this world without any tools to face the brutal reality of life. They don’t have dreams or desires to help them endure life’s challenges. They left with nothing. People say to them that they need to go to school and get an education. They need to learn a trade and get a job. All these are good for the living. Our children are Lazarus. They are hiding in a tomb. They hear all these voices calling out to them in their tombs. They mean nothing to them. Their souls are not excited. Their souls are waiting for that one voice. The One that has been seemingly silent all their lives.
Martha told Jesus, “If only you were here……things would have been different.” Others made accusatory remarks; “why couldn’t he save his own friend?” A little antagonistic but nevertheless not an invalid question. The “if” and “why” statements have been made and asked in many ways in many tragic situations. They are usually spoken by someone who has experienced the silence of God. Even in Lazarus’ case, Jesus did not answer anyone. He just wept. This is quite strange especially when we know that He was going to resurrect Lazarus.
Jesus knew the ending, so why did he weep? I found this to be one of the most puzzling verses. Perhaps, Jesus was weeping for not just Mary and Martha, but the rest of humanity. We will never experience what they are about to experience. For us, the resurrection will just be a hope for the future. Hope is good and it alleviates the pain of our loss but it cannot remove it. The pain of being weak and hopeless is real and Jesus felt and experienced it. For most of us, we won’t see our loved one restored to us through resurrection. They will remain in their graves. They are gone for the time that we are here. We are just left with the tears. This is why Jesus wept. He knows our pain. Somehow, there is something comforting and powerful in this. It reveals to us that silence is not necessarily abandonment. We want God to say something to change the circumstances. God has something else in mind but He still stands with us in our pain and weeps with us. We weep because we think that it is the end. He weeps with us because we don’t understand that He is doing something new.
We forgot to bring a yellow colored pencil this week. Alex who hardly stops sniffing paint thinner for anything decided to sit and color with us. He wanted to color this figure yellow and nothing else would do. We naturally thought that he would abandon the coloring project and go back to sniff the rest of his paint thinner. Instead, he stood up and asked the rest of the boys if they wanted to put their money together and buy a case of colored pencils. They each gave some money that they usually keep aside for buying drugs and bought pencils to color. Then they sat there for an hour coloring with us. I have never seen this before. They are discovering that there is no need to run from their pain. They found something better. They lost their dreams and desires but something is awakening in them. They would rather use their money to buy color pencils than drugs.
Mary and Martha never saw a man return from the dead before. It was a doctrine for them and then suddenly it became a reality. They waited in silence and they experienced something new. We are going in silence with our children and I believe that we can see something new slowly coming out of the tomb.