It was the women who loved him who were willing to reproach him.
First it was his mother: “Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing” (Luke 2:48-54). She did not understand his actions, this little twelve-year old son of hers. And he didn’t seem to understand her distress. Was he preoccupied in his work, his private calling? Was he unaware of how his actions would make her feel, as emotionally obtuse as only a confident child can be? There was no apology, but his words certainly gave his mother something to think about. The text says he “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” I have to assume that along the way, he also increased in compassion.
Later (John 11) he sounded so casual, talking about his friend Lazarus sleeping, that the disciples thought Lazarus was just snoozing. “No, no,” he corrected, “Lazarus is dead, and I’m so glad, because now I can show you something that will really make you believe.” Time for a field trip.
So they went, and when he arrived, Martha, the responsible sister came out. “If thou hadst been here,” she stated, “my brother had not died.” Stating that simple fact, based on the faith that he could indeed had saved her brother, was a gentle reproach. After all, she had sent word that her brother was sick, and Jesus had assured her that the sickness would not end in death. She had believed him, and somehow she still believed, even when events proved him false.
He talked about Lazarus rising again, but Martha took that to be eschalotogical talk about the resurrection at the last day. You would think he’d have been glad that someone was taking the grand plan seriously and was not concerned about the immediate need for healing or a political messiah. But perhaps that’s because her brother had been dead for days; there’s no point in asking for help in this life when all hope is past. Just look forward to the next.
Mary, too, that sister who sat learning at his feet, even when there was housework to be done, reproached him. “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.” She was weeping. And Jesus had grown up from the twelve year old who seemed to not notice the distress he had caused his mother. Jesus saw her weeping, surrounded by mourners, and he was troubled. Jesus wept.
The Jews attributed Jesus’ tears to his love of Lazarus. I prefer to attribute at least some of those tears to compassion, to the sympathetic pain he felt with Martha and Mary. These women believed in him, trusted him, and although he failed to save their brother, they still believed in him, even through their broken hearts. I can’t go so far as to attribute his tears to guilt, or regret, because he was perfect, right? but part of me wants some of those tears to be an acknowledgement that he too bore some responsibility for their pain.
From his conversation with his disciples before traveling to Lazarus’ home, it is clear the Jesus chose to let Lazarus die, to show both his foreknowledge and his power over death. Did he know then how much it would hurt Lazarus’ sisters to see him die? How much it would hurt him, Jesus, to see their weeping, to bear their reproaches? I thank God he had the grace to weep with them, that small foreshadowing of the passion of Gethsemane.
When we reproach Jesus for not fulfilling our expectations, we reveal how limited our expectations are, the paucity divine imagination of our little human minds.
Yet how can it be otherwise? We struggle so much for justice and fairness in our flawed relationships with each other. We make rules to help ourselves. “Don’t hurt each other. If you can help another person, you should.” But then God and Jesus violate these rules, asking for death and sacrifice and seeming to withhold blessings. Jesus allowed Lazarus to die to make a point. They don’t live by our rules. Expecting God to live by the rules of basic human decency will only lead to consternation and frustration because that expectation is inappropriate. We’ve known that since Abraham and Isaac, but we still can’t make sense of it.
We have to hope that when God fails to live up to our expectations, when He fails to heal us, when he allows us to suffer injustice, that He has some other plan for us. That when he allows our brother to die, his death may, in some unimaginable way, turn out to be a greater good than healing him would have been.
I have to hope that God will forgive us when we reproach Him, when we come to Him with our broken hearts, weeping with pain, not understanding but still believing. I have to believe that He cares when we hurt, and that it is acceptable for us to speak our hurt, even if we feel that the cause of our hurt may be God or His church. I hope that being faithful enough to acknowledge our pain may be the first step to being healed.
*These women may not have intended their statements to Jesus to be reproaches. There is no indication that they were resentful or angry. They may have been simple statements of fact or assertions of faith, but even so, there is a sense that in some way, Jesus failed them. He did not fulfill their expectations of him, and they were worrried or hurt by that perceived failure.