“By reading the scriptures I am so renewed that all nature seems renewed around me and with me. The sky seems to be a pure, a cooler blue, the trees a deeper green. The whole world is charged with the glory of God and I feel fire and music under my feet. ” – Thomas Merton
The Raising of Lazarus – Vincent van Gogh
He was a close friend, this Jesus. First welcomed into their home by Martha; now he was a part of their lives. He’d made an indelible mark on their hearts. Martha, Mary and Lazarus, the three siblings had found a friend, one they loved like a brother. Perhaps for Lazarus, he was glad to welcome another male into the home he shared with two sisters. Martha, always the hospitable one, was eager to welcome a new friend. And Mary, she was entranced. Listening at his feet, she drank in his words, his teaching. He spoke into her heart, like no one had before.
Martha had been upset with her at first, mistaking her eagerness to listen and to be in his presence, with an unwillingness to help prepare the meal. “Only one thing is needed, Martha. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her,” he’d responded, when she asked him to tell Mary to help.
“Chosen what is better.” Mary learned at the feet of Jesus and a spark of faith was ignited, one that would soon grow into an intense blaze. But not yet.
And then, the unthinkable happened. Lazarus fell ill, gravely ill. Only now Jesus was no longer with them. He was a day’s journey away. Immediately, they’d sent a messenger to him, telling him, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” Jesus wasn’t surprised by the unfortunate news. “This sickness will not end in death. No, it’s for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it,” he responded.
He loved them, Martha, Mary and Lazarus…deeply. But he didn’t return immediately. He waited two days before beginning the day’s journey to them in Bethany.
Lazarus’s sickness proved fatal. He passed away before Jesus returned. “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going to wake him up.” Jesus had a plan all along. The One who loved deeply, would speak life into his friend.
Responding to Grief: Jesus and Mary
When he arrived, Martha immediately went out to meet him. If only you’d been here, he wouldn’t have died, she told him. “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Martha’s faith in Jesus was rock solid. She knew he was the Son of God.
Mary held back, remaining in their home, until Jesus sent Martha to tell her he was asking for her. Quickly she went out to see him, falling at his feet saying, “Lord, if only you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” The depths of her pain and despair were brought to the surface as she wept, at his feet.
Seeing her weep, feeling her brokenness, He wept. “Jesus wept.”
Knowing his dear friend Lazarus would soon breath life again, Jesus wept. He saw Mary’s grief and felt her brokenness to the depths of his being. And God wept. Regularly we ask, does he care about our pain, our grief, our broken, aching hearts? The God who created Lazarus, who’d formed him in his mother’s womb, who knew him before he was born, who breathed life into his being once, and who would speak life into him again, wept. Why?
One commentator I found said Christ wept at the enormity of the cost and despair of death itself. The words of Scripture tell us simply, he saw Mary weeping at his feet and He wept.
Moments later at the tomb where Lazarus’s lifeless body lay, Jesus commanded, “Lazarus, come out!” And he did. The once dead man, rose and walked out into the light of day.
Martha knew Jesus could do the impossible. Mary struggled to see beyond her grief. Was it that her belief wavered or that it wasn’t strong enough yet? Jesus never rebukes Mary for unbelief. His response to her is to call her to him and when he sees her broken before him, he weeps alongside her. He sees a sister mourning for her beloved brother and he, too, weeps.
A Lavish Gift
Later in the Gospels of Mark and John, Jesus is reclining at a table in the home of Simon the Leper, when a woman comes with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She breaks the tiny neck of the alabaster flask and pours out the rare perfume upon Jesus’ head. This woman is Mary, Lazarus’s sister.
We know from John, that upon witnessing this display, Judas rebukes her for wasting such a lavish gift, a gift worth an entire year’s wages. It should’ve been sold and the proceeds given to the poor, Judas reasons. John tells us Judas’s real motivation was to get his hands on the proceeds, to pilfer from them. Jesus responds that this perfume was intended to be saved for the day of his burial, to prepare his body for burial. The fragrance of this perfume, of Mary’s anointing, of her extravagant, lavish gift fills the entire house. The scent of sacrifice, the scent of gratitude, the scent of faith made alive, the scent of love. It is her offering to the One she loves.
I’m so moved by Mary’s lavish giving and her complete lack of self, as she humbles herself even more by using her hair to wipe Jesus’ feet, without any regard to who is around her. This is a woman who’s faced grief and brokenness and has seen her God respond in absolute love. In her time of greatest need, He came alongside her, weeping with her. Then, she saw his power at work.
In many ways, I can relate to being broken and seeing God come in and move in miraculous ways, feeling his love come alongside me, during my most difficult times. Those times change you. Times where there is really no sense of self-awareness. Times when all that remains is an outpouring of love and joy for the One who gave you back life, whether it be through the healing of a loved one or the giving of life to a heart that out of brokenness had died and now was alive and filled with joy once again.
What response would be appropriate for a gift such as that, other than an outpouring of everything, of all I have and all I am? I hope I can continually do that in my life. I know I waver and often fail. I hope to be like more like Mary.
“He will be like a tree
firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.”
Yesterday the theme of the day was trees. Twice during the day, I came upon tree analogies. Fitting for a day spent outside enjoying the leafy landscape.
The first was in a morning devotional by Chuck Swindoll, who quoted poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. “Friendship is a sheltering tree.” Swindoll described the role of friendship in the midst of difficulty, specifically in regards to 2 Samuel 15 where King David flees Zion, to escape death at the hand of his son, Absalom. Absalom was seeking the throne from his father, at all costs. Men loyal to David showed their support by staying with him and fleeing their homes and land. Their act of support and allegiance greatly encouraged David.
I agree with Swindoll and Coleridge, true friendship is a sheltering tree. I’m so grateful for those in my life who spread their strong arms of faith like towering branches over me, offering me protection, comfort like much needed shade from the blistering heat of the day and a respite from the strong winds of discouragement by offering love, honesty, God’s truth & laughter.
Late afternoon I took a walk near my home, an area replete with a wealth of trees. Many are tall and skinny, trembling and bending at the first sign of wind. The wooded landscape is also dotted with mature trees, here and there. They stand strong, boldly facing the wind, as if unafraid. On my walk, I spotted the tree in the picture above, standing strong, branches reaching out.
While walking I was listening to a sermon by Michael Youssef on Luke 13:19, where Jesus is teaching the parable of the mustard seed.
“It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and threw into his own garden; and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.” Luke 13:19
Youssef stated that the man in the parable represents God, who as a gardener, threw a tiny mustard seed into his garden. The mustard seed represents our faith, individually, growing into maturity. Youssef summed up by saying what God sowed, would indeed grow strong.
Facing the struggles of each day, my faith is tested. Faith by its very nature must be tested, by the strong winds of adversity. I’m enormously encouraged that God continues to grow my faith into maturity, as I fix my eyes on Him. May I become a sheltering tree of mature faith.
Who are the sheltering trees in your life?