By Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement
“When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked. // ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied. // Jesus wept. // Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ // But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’”
In John 11 we find a story of restorative love when Jesus is called to go to Bethany because His dear friend, Lazarus, is deathly ill. Jesus heard this news, He didn’t rush to His friend’s side, but instead cared for what was in front of him before telling the disciples it was time to move toward Jerusalem. Reading between the lines, no one around Him could have truly grasped how Lazarus’ illness, and ultimately his death, would provide a final opportunity for Jesus to reveal that He was the Messiah.
I don’t know if we can fully understand the relationship Jesus had with the three siblings of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. We read of their interactions with Him a few times in the gospels, but we don’t have a full picture of how close they were. What I understand as I read the text is that this relationship between the four of them was one of mutual love, care, and support. The gospel writer uses the Greek verbs “phileo,” connected to “philia”(verse 3), meaning a “brotherly or friendly” love, and “agapao,” connected to “agape” (verse 5), referring to a “deeper, self-giving” love. It’s the deep agape love that is at the heart of God and it is genuine philia love that Jesus embodies in relationship. This is where we better understand the depth, width, and height of the Lord’s love for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. It also gives us a beautiful illustration of how Jesus loves us and how He desires to be in relationship with us and with all people.
When we live together in community, we celebrate love with hospitality for all, service to one another, and participation in each other’s afflictions. All of this creates a place where healing and restoration can occur because of the friendship we share. In these types of relationships, human predicaments are dealt with and well-being is restored.
We see Jesus participating in the painful predicaments of the world and through the resurrection offers us hope. He is Immanuel, God with us, not God “visiting” us. He is engaged with the world and is actively working in solidarity with the suffering of the world, because He experienced the worst parts of humanity. His mission is to engage with the suffering of the world and to redeem it and to restore humanity’s broken relationship with God. Discipleship calls for a similar type of engagement, for us to participate in the suffering of those around us, not to romanticize it, but to be realistic about the human condition and realize that our world aches for redemption.
A longing for restoration from destruction, for life after death, harkens back to Ezekiel chapter 37 where God asks the prophet “Can these dry bones live?” What follows is a direct command from Sovereign God to and through Ezekiel to proclaim, “Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you and will cause flesh to come upon you and cover you with skin and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 37:5-6, NRSVUE). The bodies began to mend, and with the Word of God, the breath of new life entered them. It was the living Word, the gift of the Spirit that brought full restoration.
With a brotherly love, Jesus drew near to the grieving sisters, approached the tomb, and wept, entering fully into human suffering. And with a God-filled love, Jesus proclaimed with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” and the word of God restored the breath of life. And beyond the cross of Good Friday and the empty tomb of Easter, we believe that God’s unconditional love paired with words of life raised Jesus from the dead.
As the body of Christ, we serve together as friends and share the agape love of God in the hope that those we encounter may experience the same restorative love we have in Jesus. Through the shared missions and ministries of the Church of the Brethren, we serve globally, throughout the US, and in our neighborhoods, sharing words of life with all people. Filled with God’s love and the living word, may we continue the work of Jesus.
Learn more about the loving work of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/greatthings or support its missions and ministries at www.brethren.org/give.