Relational Paralysis

May 12, 2014

“… but Mary remained seated in the house.” (John 11:20 ESV)

I recently heard a pastor read the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, and this statement grabbed me. It may have been the way he read the text, or more likely, because of what I had experienced in my relationship with Jesus just a few days before.

Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus; John is careful to tell us that (Jn 11:5). Yet, when the sisters sent for Jesus saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill” (v. 3), Jesus stayed where he was for two days. In fact, he even said, “This illness does not lead to death” (v. 4). The text does not tell us if the messenger the sisters sent delivered Jesus’ response to them. But if he did, it’s possible the messenger brought Jesus’ reply after Lazarus had died. When Jesus does arrive, Lazarus has been dead for four days. I can imagine the shock of sending for Jesus, hearing his reply that the illness will not lead to death, and then witnessing the death and burial of one you thought that Jesus loved. Was Jesus wrong? Why didn’t he come?

Mary probably knew the situation: Judea was not a safe place for Jesus. The religious leaders had wanted to stone him (Jn 11:8, 10:31). Yet, Jesus had escaped his enemies before, and he loved Lazarus. Jesus had the power to make Lazarus well, and he could overcome his enemies. But, Jesus didn’t come, and Lazarus died. Jesus did not do what Mary wanted, arguably even expected, him to do. Jesus wasn’t there, and his absence made the hard circumstances of Lazarus’ death even more difficult. Though the text does not tell us exactly why, it makes sense to read that when Mary heard that Jesus was coming, she did not go out to meet him like her sister Martha.

That’s what resonated so much with me. At happens from time to time, I was wrestling with discouragement. In my mind, I can see clearly what Jesus should be doing in my life. In my head I know he loves me, but my circumstances dull my heart to agree that it is true. I struggle with relational paralysis. I’m not opposed to going to Jesus; I just struggle with actually doing it because he has not done what I expect him to do.

Jesus is not deterred. He arrives, and Martha reminds him that he could have prevented Lazarus’ death (The reminder possibly included a measure of rebuke). Jesus patiently teaches Martha and calls for Mary, who quickly responds to his call (Jn 11:28-29). Mary also tells Jesus what he already knows (v. 32), but instead of rebuking her, he weeps over the grief caused by death (v. 35). In his weeping, Jesus is indignant at the damage caused by the enemy of God’s good creation (1 Cor. 15:26).

My unfulfilled expectations about what God should be doing in my life triggers a descent into relational paralysis. But, God does not give up on his struggling servants. He calls, and grieves, and continues with his perfect plan of redemption. He revives my spiritual deadness and gives me the power to believe in him. O for the grace to trust him more.

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