Prepare to Listen. In anticipation of the resurrection, be still and pray: Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
Prayerfully Read John 11:1-6
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ 4But 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.’ 5Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
If I were the editor of John’s Gospel, I think I might rewrite this story, at least the bit that makes Jesus seem uncaring. John makes a point of emphasizing the love between Jesus and Mary, Martha and Lazarus, yet Jesus deliberately delayed going to their help, causing them to experience further suffering and grief. If you love someone, surely you would rush to their aid? Instead, Jesus delayed, justifying it with a theological claim that this illness was ‘for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ I doubt the siblings would have been comforted by that claim. It’s not something we want to hear today as we live with coronavirus-induced limitations and sufferings. We want to be told that the situation will be resolved quickly, and life will return to normal immediately, which is what some politicians and preachers have claimed.
There was no miraculous resolution for Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Jesus intentionally put his friends through increased suffering. We can’t write their suffering out of the story, and neither can we write it out of our lives, be it a result of the pandemic or some other issue. ‘For God’s glory’ doesn’t mean suffering will be avoided; that God will magically poof it away. God will be glorified as we own our limitations and lack of control in this crisis; admit we’re mere mortals not gods; turn in humility to God the Lord. The pandemic has given us all an opportunity to discover the positive redemptive gifts that come from painful experiences. Martha learned and made the most complete confession of faith/trust in Jesus of anyone in the Gospels (see v27). The crowd learned, as Jesus stood outside the empty tomb and wept (v35), that our God laments with us in our sorrow. God takes us through it, rather than lifting us out of it. Could Jesus have arrived in time to heal Lazarus? I suppose so. But he didn’t, on purpose.
How does this story support or change your views on what ‘God’s glory’ means? What redemptive lessons are you learning in these difficult days?
Respond to Jesus
Lord of Comfort, you alone can give the breath of life to our dry bones and weary souls. Through your Spirit, may I live today with whatever comes in hope of resurrection and new life for your glory. Amen.
Go live obediently in the world, alert for God’s lessons that display God’s glory.
Because I believe that Scripture is food for our soul (our entire being) I seek to read it and encourage others to read it in ways that nourish and transform our beings. I invite you to read the Bible with me during Lent and into Easter. I am a Bible teacher, spiritual companion and retreat director. I know the Bile and how to read it for spiritual formation.