My wife is one of the most compassionate people I’ve ever met. If she sees someone in need, her first instinct is to rush forward and help them in any way she can. I admire that about her, and I try to become more like her at times. But as this passage shows, sometimes our Lord doesn’t do it like that.
Jesus had a family that he loved to hang around with. We don’t know how he came to know Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. But today’s passage, along with the rest of the chapter, indicates that he had an especially warm and intimate relationship with them. Likely this is where he and his apostles regularly stayed when he visited Jerusalem, since Bethany was only about two miles outside the city.
By the way, what does it mean that he “loved them”? Does this mean that he didn’t love everyone else? This also brings up the phrase when referring to the author of this Gospel. He keeps on calling himself “the one whom Jesus loved.” Does this mean that he didn’t love the other disciples? Of course not. He loves all of us. And he died for each one of us, so in that sense he loves all of us equally. But there's a sense in which he can “love” someone more than someone else. I think it means what I said in the last paragraph. Some of his followers have more of an intimate and warm relationship than others do. And I'd guess that if I don't have as intimate a relationship with Jesus as I'd like, that's probably my fault.
But here we have a very mysterious phrase. Vs. 5 tells us that Jesus loved those people. But vs. 6 tells us, "So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days." Let's not try to soften the blow. Jesus loved the family, so he waited two more days before leaving to help them.
Why did Jesus’ love for them compel him to wait while his beloved friend lay dying in agony, not to mention the emotional agony of the sisters? I don’t know for sure, but I guess we can speculate. Jesus makes it clear in this passage that he was planning on raising Lazarus from the dead. So maybe he wanted them to experience a deeper understanding of who he is. Maybe he wanted them to have a more solid faith in him. He does say that this whole situation has been brought into the plan because “it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it.” Exactly how that works into the fact that he loves them, I don’t know.
But I do know this. I’m sure that just about everyone who's reading this can relate to Mary and Martha. We know that he loves us, and that he has compassion on our suffering. And if we’re mature believers, we know that he has a higher purpose than our comfort. But the thought that he’s letting us suffer because he loves us?
That’s a tough lesson. All I can say, both to you and to me, is that he knows what he’s doing. And in the end we won’t regret trusting him to do all things well.
Lord Jesus, I do trust you, but sometimes it’s so hard when I don’t understand what you’re doing. Please help.