Retelling of John 11 from Perspective of Thomas
My other eleven brothers call me doubting Thomas. To be blunt, all twelve of us struggle with doubt, but I’m the only one willing to be honest and forthright about my feelings. Anyway, I am here to tell you about the story of Lazarus and how Jesus taught us something about trust and true lament in suffering.
About eight months ago, our group traveled with Jesus to Jerusalem for an extended stay of miraculous healing and prophetic teaching. Neither were well received by the religious leaders, yet the common people largely welcomed us with open arms. Jesus’ jabs would always get a reaction from those hard-hearted false shepherds. In fact, they were on the verge of stoning our Teacher when he wisely decided we should move on from Jerusalem. Jesus knew there was important ministry to be done across the wilderness and near the Jordan river.
The doors opened for Jesus’ message and many miracles were performed as well. Wherever we went, people with real needs came to receive Jesus’ every word and powerful touch.
One morning, we heard a knock on the door of the house where we were staying. Two friends of Mary and Martha had arrived from Bethany with an urgent message. Their brother was deathly ill and the situation did not look good. I couldn’t help but wonder if Jesus could drop everything and come as quickly as they desired?
Our Lord listened, nodded and the two messengers left smiling, convinced he would come quickly and make everything right with their ill brother.
To our surprise, Jesus didn’t let this urgent news interrupt his plan to finish the work there. After the messengers had left, he told us that what actually happened was that Lazarus had just fallen asleep. His explanation was strange to us; surely Mary and Martha could tell the difference of being asleep and nearly dead from illness.
Several days later our work in Jericho came to an end, and Jesus announced we were now heading back to Jerusalem. There was yet work to be done and Lazarus’s sleeping was actually not what we had thought. Lazarus was now dead, in fact, he had been for several days.
Now every one of us knew the danger of going back to Jerusalem. The spies of the religious leaders were everywhere, eager to pick up where they had left off with us. They would certainly try and find a way to put Jesus, and perhaps all of us, to death.
What was Jesus doing? Why didn’t he act earlier when the pain was obvious and his dear friend, that he loved, was in such dire need? If we go back to Jerusalem, why go now when it was too late? Or so we thought. The lesson we would soon learn is that the Master understood that true love is committed to the long run best, not just to solve the immediate emergency. Jesus had in mind a higher good with Lazarus’ “healing” that only raising him from the dead could bring about.
Jesus knew what we were thinking and he raised his different view: “This delay on my part, the death of Lazarus and the darkness my friends feel are all part of my plan. I am setting up the chance for you to see my glory and my character in a greater way. You will need that in the days ahead when both my suffering and your trials will only increase.”
So, I said it, what we all felt, “OK then, let’s go back to Judea, to Jerusalem and be stoned to death with Jesus, at least we can be together when we die.”
How easy it is for me to despair or doubt him when things don’t happen the way I think they should. Looking back, I can now see that the Master knew best and I can trust him when all seems bleak.
After a day or so of travel, we approached Bethany which was now less than a mile away. Word travels quickly in small towns, so Mary and Martha knew we were coming long before we had arrived.
Philip was the first to see Martha coming down the road. After our initial greetings, she looked Jesus in the eyes and trying to hide her deeper feelings said: “Master, if you had come sooner, your friend Lazarus would not have died.” Her words may sound like a strong statement of faith, it’s actually our cultures indirect way of addressing her frustration at Jesus’ tardy and seemingly unloving response.
Back and forth she and Jesus went, Jesus reassuring her that all would be well for Lazarus, not only in the future but even in the here and now.
Martha, while still confused, seemed content with Jesus’ reply; the seeds of her faith even larger than mine perhaps. I could see, though, that she still carried a small cloud of doubt over what would now happen. Jesus asked her about Mary, and learned that her sadness and grief were heavier indeed. Yes, Martha replied to Jesus, she would run back to the house and tell her that Jesus wanted to see her, too. We remained right where Martha had met us, caught up in conversation and even more news about Lazarus’ illness and passing.
Before long, Mary appeared, with mourners in black surrounding her. As is our custom, they continued to wail loudly as they approached. Mary had hardly met Jesus eye to eye before she fell at his feet in sadness and desperation. Her first words were similar to Martha’s but they dripped with unbridled emotion.
Mary indeed wept, for her heart was tender in love. Her lament and grief ran deep.
To Mary, Jesus did not reply quickly with the promise of his final resurrection or of raising Lazarus from the dead. The Master’s expression was softer, full of compassion, as if her tears were flowing straight into his heart. The death of his friend and their sorrow had no small impact on our Lord. Yet, a rising indignation, a sense of being fed up with the reality of death and suffering accompanied his tenderness. He let out a sigh whose silent message was clear to all: “I am so tired of the heavy yoke of the world’s pain and losses.”
He turned and asked where the tomb was located. I wondered if this was just a way to get out of an awkward moment. I was wrong. For before we could set out toward the tomb, Jesus remained standing, and began to weep. Softly at first, but then the sobbing began. Mary, still at his feet, stood up, allowing the Master to fall to one knee; the weight of the sadness was almost visible on his shoulders. Mary reached her arm out to comfort her friend and Lord.
I stood with the other eleven watching form a safe physical and emotional distance. Everything I had grown up learning about both the Hebrew religion and Greek gods was being challenged at this point. If Jesus was the son of God, we were seeing a side of the divine we could not have imagined. The suffering of Lazarus and his friends had become his own, and his heart was breaking.
Little did we know that was all a preview of the days to come: Jesus would grieve, weeping in the garden until he sweat blood…Jesus taking on our suffering and sin as his own on the cross…being raised from the dead out of his own tomb by the command of his Father’s voice.
Jesus moved on from Mary and that place of weeping to prove to us all that in a way, Lazarus had indeed just been sleeping. Yet I will place in my heart the miracle of his rising from the dead right alongside the miracle of my Lord and Master’s tears.
Jesus sees our suffering, he laments with us in our losses. He is burdened by the pain of this world and will one day deal with it forever. Jesus still does not fail to love us in a way we often cannot see well when our mourning is greatest..