Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Part 3: "Tears of Anger"


This is Part 3 of our online examination of the biblical account of Jesus' raising of Lazarus from the dead.  I'm grateful for the feedback I've received about Parts 1 and 2, and I hope you will continue to experiment with the various parts of each lesson and let me know what you think.  You can still use the Blog Archive menu listing earlier postings to look at Parts 1 and 2, so don't worry if you haven't been following these discussions from the beginning.


Lord, remind me of your deep concern for me in all parts of life.  Let me use this time to focus my attention and broaden my understanding.  Help me be to be relaxed, alert, and welcoming to whatever you want me to learn or know today.  Amen.

Video Clip

Here is a clip about the raising of Lazarus from a televised miniseries, called "Jesus of Nazareth."  Notice how the portrayal of Mary's words and actions leaves open several possible interpretations of her feelings. (The clip begins with the words of Martha.  Mary is the second sister who speaks in the clip)


We have been looking at different translations of the account of the raising of Lazarus, which appears in the Gospel According to John, Chapter 11, verses 1-44.  Here is the passage again, this time as translated in the New International Version (NIV):

Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”
Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”
11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Discussion:   "Deeply moved in spirit and troubled..."

When Jesus saw Mary at his feet, weeping and saying that Lazarus could still be alive if Jesus had arrived in time, Jesus was "deeply moved in spirit and troubled."  All those around might easily infer that Mary had been overcome in her grief and sorrow.  Surely, she would have found the death of her brother to be a terribly sad event.  As noted in Part 2 of this study, it is at least possible that she may have been suffering from clinical depression.

Perhaps, though, Mary was neither overcome by sadness nor suffering from clinical depression.  Perhaps she was angry.  

It is not unusual for people to cry when they are very angry.  My wife has frequently told me that she does not cry from sorrow or hurt feelings nearly as often as she cries from anger.  If people then try to comfort her, saying something like "there, there, don't be sad," she finds their misunderstanding of her emotions even more infuriating.  And that makes her cry even more!

According to verses 28-31, when Martha quietly returned to the house to remind Mary again that Jesus had arrived and was calling for her, Mary rose quickly and went right to where Jesus was.  When other mourners who had come to the house to offer their condolences saw Mary get up and leave "so quickly," they incorrectly assumed that she must be going to the tomb to weep.  If the guests misinterpreted Mary's reason for leaving the house quickly, it is also possible that they misinterpreted Mary's tears and emotional state. (verse 31). 

According to verse 32, Mary knelt down before Jesus and said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."  While her statement acknowledges Jesus' healing power, the statement also may have been a complaint--as if to say, "You could have saved him but you didn't!"  

 It is at least possible that she hurried to find Jesus, not weeping with sorrow, but shaking with tears of rage.  Instead of saying that she "knelt," the Common English Bible translation says that she "fell at his feet." She may have been overwhelmingly frustrated and angry with Jesus.  The text reports that when Jesus saw her weeping (and the crowd also weeping),  he was "deeply moved in spirit and troubled."(verse 33).  Did he believe her tears and words expressed anger directed at him?  He would not have been the first man to find it distressing to face an angry woman convulsed in tears.  However he interpreted her emotional state, the text explicitly says that Jesus found the situation very upsetting. (verses 33-35).  But his purposes went beyond convincing Mary that she should not be angry with him.

I know a number of people who have reported feeling angry at God over the apparent injustice or senselessness of events or conditions in their lives. 

A parent has lost a job for no apparent reason, throwing a family into dire straights.  Why?

A much loved and admired relative has suffered intense pain and death from a prolonged illness.  Why would a loving God allow such suffering?

An elderly neighbor has been victimized by a crime, or a promising young student in school has been murdered by an unknown assailant.  Where is the justice?

Thousands of innocent civilians are left orphaned or homeless during a war.  How can God watch such events without intervening?

In the face of such suffering, it would be easy enough to reject religion or deny God's existence altogether.  Alternatively, a person could conclude that Jesus was not as powerful or wise or loving as church leaders have claimed.  But even if a person continued to believe strongly in God as embodied in Christ, it would also be understandable for such a person in such extreme circumstances to become angry with God.

If Jesus perceived Mary as angry over his failure to save her brother from illness, he did not criticize her for that emotion.  He did not lecture her about his divine mission, or her duty to trust his judgment and purposes.  He did not assure her that he would never "give her more than she could handle."  Instead, he just let her express her emotions without trying to deny the legitimacy of her feelings.  In this way, he respected and honored her as a person, before he did anything about raising Lazarus.  Then, without waiting for her to "calm down," he asked where Lazarus had been buried.

In short, God in Christ was big enough to bear the brunt of human anger.  God did not leave.  God's love did not falter.  And God is the same today.  When we are angry with God,  God still remains with us, surrounding us with love.


Have you ever been angry with God?  Or have you known another person who has angry at God?  Has that anger been resolved?  If so, how? 

Have you found anything helpful to say or do, for a person who has been suffering from profound injustice that you could not alleviate?  Or for a person who has been suffering endlessly from a long-term illness?  Has it made a difference whether or not you have been able to do anything to meaningfully alleviate the suffering?

Think about the account of the raising of Lazarus again, in connection with such times.  Does the account seem reassuring?  Is the experience of extended, unresolved anger at God anything like being shut up in a tomb?

What do you imagine Jesus thinking, as he saw Mary approaching in tears?  What might Lazarus say, upon hearing Mary and Martha's account of what had happened outside the


Lord, be with us even when we are angry with you.  Be also with others suffering from injustice, violence and disease.  Help us know how to be of help to others who are suffering in mind, body or spirit. Remind us that you are Lord of all life, and Lord over death itself.  In the midst of all the crises and sorrows of our lives, remind us that your love never fails.  In the name of Jesus, who raised Lazarus and who promises life to all of us, Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment