Scripture: When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. 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 also have kept this man from dying?”
John 11:28-37 ESV [Click here to read the entire chapter.]
Observation: Recapping Yesterday’s Daily Focus, Jesus arrives with his disciples near Lazarus’ burial site outside Bethany. When Martha learns that Jesus is at the tomb, she parts company to seek him while Mary remains with mourners at their house. Finding Jesus, Martha confronts him about his delay and contends that he could have saved Lazarus if he had come sooner. Then, grasping for hope, she declares her faith in Jesus and reasons that God will grant whatever Jesus asks of him. Assuringly, Jesus tells Martha her brother will rise again, but Martha thinks he refers to the end times. Thus, seizing the moment to reveal the greater extent of his divine character, Jesus declares his fifth “I am” statement to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life” (v.25). He adds that all who believe in him will inherit eternal life and challenges Martha regarding her faith in him. With certainty, Martha beautifully responds that she believes Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (v.27).
Today’s reading continues the story with Martha returning to her house to inform Mary that Jesus is calling for her. Mary no longer delays and quickly seeks her Master’s company. Taking notice of Mary’s abrupt departure, the mourners scurry behind her, thinking Mary is heading to Lazarus’ tomb. As Mary approaches Jesus, she falls at his feet and echoes her sister’s earlier words of dismay (v.21): “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (v.32 here). Deeply moved by the tears of all gathered around him, Jesus asks where they laid Lazarus. With their response to “come and see,” Jesus weeps. But the crowd’s reaction to Jesus’ display of emotion is mixed. Some express that he surely loved Lazarus, but others question why this miracle worker could not save Lazarus’ life.
Takeaway: Both sisters expressed sorrow and frustration when calling out Jesus for the delay that resulted in their brother’s death. But while a composed Jesus challenged Martha to believe that he would raise her brother from death to life, this time, in the company of Mary and all the mourners, he is overwhelmed with intense feelings reflective of his human nature.
The ESV translates the precipitating emotions that led to Jesus weeping as “deeply moved” and “greatly troubled.” A literal translation from the Greek text provides helpful nuances. Regarding being “deeply moved,” John uses the Greek word enebrimēsato, which means “to snort like a horse,” connoting intense anger. Jesus’ anger is not directed toward any gathered around him but, as most scholars concur, toward the ravages of death introduced to our world by Adam and Eve’s sin. God created our world, desiring to dwell with us intimately. But one of the consequences of the first man and woman seeking to be like God and gain knowledge of good and evil is the decay of all forms of life.
The second Greek word translated as “greatly troubled” is etaraxen, which expresses agitation, confusion, or disorganization. In this context, however, Jesus is not confused or disorganized but agitated over the emotional pain of those around him who dearly loved Lazarus. Indeed, Lazarus was a beloved friend of Jesus, and it further grieved him to see his heartbroken friends consumed in their grief. But Jesus does not contrive an emotional response to be relatable. Our “man of sorrows,” as Isaiah prophesied of the Messiah (Isaiah 53:3), deeply felt the array of emotions we wrestle with, as demonstrated by his weeping. However, unlike us, Jesus never let his anger or gut-wrenching grief get the best of him and cause him to sin.
Our takeaway? Our emotions are a gift from our Triune God to help us understand his nature and full-orbed love for us. Still, having inherited sin from Adam and Eve, we struggle to process our emotions appropriately. Repressed feelings become toxic, eventually causing harm to ourselves or others—whether passive or active. So how might we process negative feelings appropriately in a manner that would draw us closer to our Creator and restore our wounded souls? Like Martha and Mary, we must seek Jesus and honestly express our disappointments and hurt. When we do, his Holy Spirit will refresh our souls with a renewed perspective of our circumstances: This too will pass, for eternity awaits us with the Lover of our souls, who will wipe away our every tear (Revelation 21:4). Meanwhile, our Lord provides pastors, counselors, friends, and family to help us express our feelings and press through to the other side of our grief. And he who weeps with us will be with us to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son, who, while fully divine, was fully human and understood and felt our range of emotions. And we thank you for this gift of godly emotions that help us fully experience life. Still, we confess that our emotions can get the best of us as they provoke sinful thoughts and actions. So would you please help us follow the lead of your Holy Spirit to appropriately express and process emotions to you with the aid of those you bring across our paths? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling