John 11:1-37 – I get so excited when I share about this passage! We are going to talk today about a little insight that you have probably glossed over every time you’ve read this part of John. This is a very famous section. Yeshua raises Lazarus from the dead. From. The. Dead. – Like 4 days in the tomb, already decomposing, dead!
That’s significant, and we’ll talk about the impacts of that in the next post, but there’s a hidden nugget in here that I’ve never heard anyone mention. In case this is your first time reading this story, let’s set the stage. Lazarus and his two sisters are really good friends with Yeshua. (This is the same Mary & Martha of Luke 10 – which is a whole other commentary for another day.) In fact, in John 11:5 it says, “Now Yeshua loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” He knew them all very well.
In the text we see that he already knows Lazarus is dead before he heads there to raise him. (v.11) Before he even performs the miracle, he interacts with both Martha and Mary and those interactions have so much for us to learn from. If you have read the (in)famous story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10, you know that they are very different women. I believe people have very heavily mischaracterized Martha and her actions because of the Luke narrative. In this passage in John we get more insight into each of the women.
Did you notice that both of the sisters greet Yeshua with the same statement? “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21 & 32) This is the first thing out of their mouths but what comes before that and what follows is completely different. You can see the difference in each sister by how they react to the death of their brother and interact with Yeshua.
Martha is a woman of action. She gets things done and doesn’t like to sit around. When she hears that Yeshua has come, she gets up and goes to meet him. She doesn’t wait for him to get to their house. (v.20) Some might mischaracterize her statement to Yeshua as critical, but I think her following words show that she is just speaking plainly. After her statement in verse 21, she continues with, “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” (John 11:22) She knew that Yeshua could do anything. She had faith. It was unwavering. Even her brother’s death did not shake it.
Yeshua tells her that Lazarus will rise again. (v.23) Martha responds with some sound knowledge of scripture acknowledging that Lazarus will rise again at the last day. (v.24) She was knowledgeable and solid in her beliefs. Then Yeshua throws her a curveball.
“Yeshua said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’” John 11:25-26
Her answer is testament to her personality. It is a simple and no frills – “Yes, Lord” – but she goes on to answer him with more than he asked: “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of G-d, who is coming into the world.” (John 11:27) she accurately reads his underlying question. Is he the Messiah, the only one who would have the power to raise the dead? She knows who he is – the Messiah. She believes. She is certain. Even in her grief, she can have this conversation with Yeshua. We all know a Martha (or maybe you are a Martha) – calm when things go sideways, no nonsense, practical, someone who gets things done and keeps the world moving.
Look at how Yeshua responds to her “grief.” He doesn’t ply her with platitudes. He doesn’t chide her for her opening statement to him and ask her why she isn’t in the house grieving her brother. He responds with exactly what she needs – practical words and an opportunity for her to reaffirm her knowledge of him and her faith. He strengthens that faith with his words.
Now let’s look at Mary. She is so overcome with grief that she doesn’t even get up to go to Yeshua – not until Martha comes back and urges her to go. (v.20,28) Many of us are like this. We feel loss and experience emotions so strongly that we can’t even respond to what may be going on around us. It is the Martha’s in our world that break through that grief and urge us to eat, to sleep, to get up and get dressed as we can’t even begin to think about those things.
Verse 32 sees Mary approaching Yeshua and making the same statement as Martha, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died,” but she says this as she is at his feet weeping. Martha remained composed and could have a conversation when she met Yeshua but Mary can barely contain her grief long enough to speak. Mary’s grief is not met with words of hope or encouragement. Verse 33 says that Yeshua was “deeply moved in his spirit.” In verse 35 we have the famous shortest verse – “Yeshua wept.” He wept with her. He grieved with her. He didn’t tell her to stop crying because he was going to raise her brother from the dead. He was there with her in her grief – knowing full well that in a few minutes that grief would evaporate and be replaced with overwhelming joy. But for that moment, the lesson was that he grieved with her.
Two sisters. Two very different women. One very practical and one more emotional. Both had the same thought – “Lord, if you had been here…” and he responded to each one individually. He met the need of each woman. He knew them so well that he could respond to them exactly how they needed to be “comforted.” This knowledge is such a treasure!
Yeshua, G-d in the flesh, was a physical representation of how G-d responds to each of us exactly how we need him to. He made you. He knows exactly who you are and how you tick. Don’t feel bad if you are practical and no nonsense. Don’t feel bad if you need to cry it out. Whatever you need, G-d has for you and he will answer your need with practical reassurance or his presence as you go through your emotions. Isn’t He good? Baruch HaShem!
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