James Taylor and Carole King would not have approved of Jesus’ behavior in John 11. You may remember how, back in the early seventies, they sang—with great conviction—“You just call out my name, and you know wherever I am, I’ll come running. . . . You’ve got a friend.”
But Jesus did not come running, even though Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were his friends, and he theirs. More even than that: Jesus loved Lazarus, loved the sisters. And so naturally, after Jesus hears that Lazarus, whom he loves, is sick, he waits two more days before even starting for Bethany.
Is this any way for Jesus to treat his friends?
When Martha sees Jesus and his disciples, finally coming down the road (though Lazarus is dead as Marley), she bolts out of the house and gets in Jesus’ face (though she kneels at his feet). She demands to know why: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!”
Translation? “Why weren’t you here?
Why didn’t you come when we called? We believe in you. Don’t you care about us at all?” Mary says the same thing a little later.
Truth to tell, I have felt like the sisters, though I am not so bold as they, nor nearly so bold as many other pray-ers in scripture. “Rouse yourself! Rend the heavens and come down! Save us! Can’t you see we are drowning! Where are you?” So many times I have wanted to scream that kind of prayer at heaven, “’Kumbaya!’ for God’s sake!” Seldom have I actually done it. Why? What binds my prayers?
Well, for one thing, I have been taught that I should not question Jesus, or God—should not tell the whole truth of how I feel because it may sound disrespectful—I am dust, after all. What I want or feel hardly matters to the Almighty.
Too, what I am praying may be selfish, even if I am praying for someone else. Mary and Martha pray for themselves as much as for Lazarus in John 11, but I know I am not supposed to pray selfish prayers.
I may not have all the facts either, may not see the bigger picture. In John 11 a miracle is coming. John says that is the point of Jesus’ delay—that Jesus’ power would be plain. Uh, maybe.
In any case, I don’t want to sound like a TV preacher. Or maybe—this could be big—I am not altogether convinced Jesus really is my friend, that he really loves me. Others, yes. Me? Not so sure.
In all honesty, though, the biggest stumbling block may be this: if I ask—boldly—and Jesus does for me what I ask, I may have to do what Jesus asks in turn, and I am not sure I want to be that obligated.
Dr. Thomas Steagald
Check out Tom’s “Preaching Journal” at http://www.goodpreacher.com