Perspective. I sat in my empty bathtub and held the bulky mobile phone at a 45-degree angle to my ear. The year was 2002, and I was a recent college graduate working for a Rhode Island newspaper far away from everything and everyone I knew. The only way I could ever get a decent cell phone signal in my beachside apartment was to hold that position in my porcelain tub, so I did. Every night. That particular night’s phone call was to my sister, Jennifer. By birth she is four years my elder, but she has always been light years ahead of me in… just about everything.
During that particular phone call I was fragile, which probably translated to whiny. I was still reeling from round-the-clock 9/11 coverage, I was considering other job offers and graduate school options, and wondering why I didn’t have a clear answer. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. As I explained this to my sister she suggested I pray for a clear path. Thoughtlessly, I wondered out loud whether praying about it would really even matter, because it hadn’t seemed to help much so far. There was a steady pause on the other end of the line. Jennifer, who had recently suffered a miscarriage and was at that very moment in serious danger of having a second miscarriage quietly said, “Elizabeth, sometimes prayer is really all we have and sometimes it’s all we really need.” Where I saw hopelessness she saw hope. Perspective.
The major narrative in John 11 presents us with two very different perspectives: Mary and Martha who desperately want Jesus to heal their dying brother; and Jesus who seems to strategically wait out their pleas to fulfill a greater purpose. Jesus knows Mary and Martha (this is the same Mary who anointed Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair). The sisters plead with Jesus to come and save their brother from death—their faith is unwavering and their need is urgent. They are quite certain the end is near for Lazarus, and what could be more compelling than that?
But where Mary and Martha are desperate Jesus is steady. Instead of hurrying to be with Lazarus, Jesus says “The sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it” (11:4). In fact, Jesus waits two extra days to attend to Lazarus, and by that time he is good and dead. The timing is important to this story: Lazarus has already died, and the disciples are convinced that Jesus (and they) will be killed if they go to Judea. Yet, they go, indeed. Jesus encounters each of the grieving sisters, Mary and Martha, and eventually commands Lazarus to emerge from the tomb, “Lazarus, come forth” (v. 43). There is rejoicing.
This is not the first instance we see of Jesus healing powers in the book of John. In John 9 (1-34), we learn of a man who was blind since birth who is given sight by Jesus. This man who had been helpless is transformed into a fearless advocate for Jesus’ ministry, debating the Pharisees. Where once he was blind, he is now transformed by his healing. Perspective. In the case of Lazarus Jesus used his power to care for his grieving friends, to raise Lazarus, and to demonstrate God’s power over death. Funeral preparations became a joyous reunion. Let’s ask that in our own lives we seek God’s timing and God’s perspective not to raise the dead but to glorify the kingdom. Let us see that in hopeless situations, God can provide hope; in desperate circumstances, God’s power and glory can make things new.
“Did I not say that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father I thank You that You heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” (John 11:40-42).
Elizabeth Smith Culver Palms Church of Christ Culver City, CA