Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 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.
Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” - John 11:1-16
Jesus got a message from his dear friend Mary of Bethany that a loved one, Lazarus, was critically ill. Instead of rushing to see them, Jesus stays to finish some work and then suggests traveling even further to a place where he had already been in danger. Finally he announces that Lazarus had died and that now they needed to go there so that they could understand why he had delayed and what it meant. There must have been some mumbling among the disciples about why he didn't hurry to Lazarus as soon as the message came. After all, isn't that just human nature to want to be there to say goodbye?
Recently I got a phone call from one of my nieces telling me that my only brother was dying. It was not unexpected but the actual words brought home that unless I got there quickly, I might never be able to see my brother again. We had talked just a few days before and athough the conversation was of hope and love, I still had the feeling that it was my goodbye to him. I was right; it was. When my niece called again, it was only a few days later. What to do? Go at once and deal with the consequences of that decision or stay here and deal with the consequences here. Unlike Jesus, I didn't have a lesson to teach about the power of God, or to prove his own power over the grave, but I have a feeling that in his very human heart, Jesus would have had similar feelings as I did when he delayed going to Lazarus.
There are so many times when I wish I didn't have to make decisions, especially difficult ones that are part of an intensely internal flood of emotions. Those emotions pull me this way and then that as I consider the consequences of my decision. Even after I decide, there are second, third and fourth thoughts, causing me to ask if I really made the correct decision. As painful as it must have been for Jesus, his decision was to continue his mission and let Lazarus help him teach a lesson to his disciples and friends about his own coming death and resurrection. I have a feeling that just because Jesus was tuned in to the will of God it didn't always make the human part of him ache from time to time.
Lazarus probably believed that he would see a resurrection on the Judgment Day but the call to come out of the tomb must still have been a shock. I have no doubt my brother had a similar faith that he too would be raised at that time but for him there was no call to come out -- at least not yet. I have faith that one day we will see each other again, without recriminations of "Why didn't you come?" or need to ask for forgiveness for not being there.
Somehow I don't think Lazarus' first thoughts upon seeing Jesus were "Why didn't you come?" either.
Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, February 18, 2012.