The story of Jesus visiting his friends and raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45) is a powerful introduction to the crucifixion and resurrection – though Lazarus is brought back to human life, and will die again, and Jesus is resurrected, to eternal life with no further death to face. You can see why we read it on Passion Sunday, looking forward to the final events of Jesus’ earthly life. It stands with the raising of the widow’s son at Nain, and of Jairus’ daughter, as signs of Jesus power, even over death.
But it is not only Jesus Power, it is about his motivation. In fact there are at least 2 other things to see in this story. Jesus cares about these people. They are friends. He knows how different the 2 sisters are – Martha will meet him with forthright words, Mary with emotion. Jesus accepts that. He sympathises, and is moved to tears himself. Yes, his power, and this action, is important – but he is no showman, manipulating his audience to do tricks. Lazarus restored life will be a witness, and a support to the family.
So we learn about Jesus power, but also about his sympathy and relationship with this family and its members. Thirdly, again importantly, we see how his conversations deepen the faith of Martha, Mary, and the others there. Martha: “Yes, Lord, I Believe that you are the Messiah”. Mary just comes to Jesus and kneels at his feet. For the moment, they are entirely bound up in their bereavement (which would have had serious consequences for their lives). Yet it will not be long before the faith now dawning and strengthening will be essential to them as Jesus disciples are scattered after his execution.
Are we just onlookers? I hope not. We need to know each of those 3 things, and to know them not just intellectually, with book learning.
- Jesus is powerful. Some idea of what he can do is vital for us to trust.
- Jesus cares. Even minor characters – the ones we might call unimportant – get loving and sympathetic treatment.
- Jesus wants to talk with us about faith, life, and where we are going. Only when that happens can we find our way – His way – forward.
I imagine Mary said many times, “Why did it have to be like this?” We could answer, we are so glad it was like that, and written down for us to benefit!