Friends show up. Especially in bad times. They may not know what to say or what to do, but they’ll sit with you in your dark place just so you know that you’re not alone.
Jesus was tight with Lazarus and his sisters. So, when Lazarus fell ill, Mary and Martha sent for him. The countryside was littered with formerly lame people dancing the Tamborito and once-blind Israelites watching sunsets over the Sea of Tiberias. Curing Lazarus should have been a cinch.
But contrary to the sisters’ expectations, Jesus delayed his arrival. On purpose. Lazarus died. Mary and Martha were deeply grieved and more than a little put out with Jesus. At the tomb, Jesus wept. And then he raised his friend from the dead.
It would be perfectly understandable if you see the miracle of Lazarus resuscitation as the main point of this story. And don’t get me wrong. It’s an important element of the narrative. But we have to consider Jesus’ intentional delay to feel the full weight of the message he’s conveying.
Here’s a crucial if subtle key in the text: “Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair.” (John 11:2) This anointing hasn’t taken place at this juncture of the story. It will happen only in the next chapter. (12:1-7)
Mary is anointing Jesus in anticipation of his own death and burial. (12:7) John wants us to connect Mary’s anointing of Jesus to the death of Lazarus. The message is that Jesus joins Lazarus, joins each of us in our own death.
A few days later, Jesus calls his followers friends, not just servants. And here’s how he defines true friendship: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)
You and I and everyone we love will die. There’s no avoiding it. Death is our final foe. The enemy that we cannot outrun with our fame or power or wealth. Cannot finally defeat with any diet or exercise or medicine. Once we’re in the grave, there’s no pulling ourselves up by our wit or our strength. We will have none left.
Jesus goes down to the grave with us. It’s the only way for him to raise us up from the dirt into a new life. A new kind of life no longer under the shadow of death or pain or sorrow. He has to show up.
Jesus dies so that we can live. That’s what it means to say that Jesus is our friend. He shows up in our darkest place.
Our friendship with Jesus does not begin after we breathe our last. He extends that friendship to you and to me in all the ordinary moments of our life. He is already sharing eternal life—a life that will raise us from any figurative grave we tumble into—even now.
Since Jesus is our friend, we can have the courage to show up for our neighbor when they find themselves in dark places. In loneliness or suffering. In sorrow or hunger. In the grip of oppression or at the end of their rope.
We can show up for anybody’s moments in the tomb because we can be assured that Jesus has gotten there ahead of us.
Thank you for this wonderful reflection, Jake. A fresh way for me to interpret the Gospel! Thinking about death I return to my friend Simon’s interpretation of St Francis’s Canticle… Sister Death, first and last breath.
If I faced something in my life that called for friends, I would go to my church first. People there would support me with the truth, and would stay with me through the whole time required.
This may well be because people of faith instinctively know how to tell the truth because they wouldn’t care if I denied what they say or how much I resisted.
Thank you Jake. God’s peace. Your blog s. And books are a blessing to me and my family.
Thank you Jake. I wasn’t sure if it was ok to mention Wayne Houston. Our high school friend. His life story was such an inspiration to myself and our friends. As I mentioned he had als. And served God. He is now in Heaven. Thank you so much for your encouragement to serve God and in my case have a healthier life. God has made it possible to be at our niece s weddings. Someday. They are both 10 now. I’m so thankful to be God’s faithful servant. God’s peace. Jake.