The Reading: John 11:1-44
“Lord, he whom you love is ill” (v.3) RSV
The prayer request of Martha and Mary for their dying brother, Lazarus, was non-prescriptive. They sent messengers to Jesus with the words, “Lord, he whom you love is ill” (v.3). This plea allows the Lord to do what is right in his time, but it becomes clear that the sisters had it clearly in mind what he should do. He should come at once, lay hands on Lazarus and make him instantly better, or simply 2say the word2 from where he was. That is why when Jesus eventually turned up they each in turn accused him: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (vv. 21, 32).
Time and again we read of the accusation against Jesus that he does not care because he does not do what he is expected to do. They think that if he is loving he would do what they ask. They had faith to believe that he could heal the sick. But their faith ran out when Lazarus died. Yet Jesus was testing their faith and leading them on to greater faith. He said to them outside the tomb, “Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” (v.40).
Now Jesus knew what he was going to do. He had been in prayer to his Father whilst miles away in Bethany (not the Bethany where Martha and Mary lived!). He could have said the word whilst there and Lazarus could have been healed. He could have travelled back to Bethany and laid on hands. But no, he delayed until Lazarus had died. By the time he arrived the man had been dead four days (v.39).
So when he stood outside the tomb he was not trying to bring Lazarus back to life through prayer. He prayed for the sake of those standing by (v.42), to help lift their faith. He knew that God was a God of the ‘impossible’, but others did not. In this case the faith of all was needed for such a mighty miracle to be done. This is what prayer does; it brings us into our Father’s presence so that our spirits can be instructed and we start to think and believe with the mind of Christ. Next week we shall see the result!
Lord, you walked so serenely and confidently, knowing the will of your Father. Help me to listen and learn. Amen.
1 Where else do we read the accusation that God does not care?
2 Does Jesus care for us?