The Lord said to Martha, “Thy brother shall rise again.” “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day,” she replied, and he told her, “I am the resurrection, and the life; he that believeth in me, shall never die.” The sisters must surely have known that he raised up the daughter of Jairus and the son of the widow of Nain. Martha had gone away, for the moment at least, a little comforted; and now came Mary, who knew the Lord better than her sister—alas, with the same bitter tears flowing from her eyes, and the same hopeless words, almost of reproach, falling from her lips! Then it was, at the sight of her and the Jews with her, that the spirit of the Lord was moved with indignation. They wept as those who believe in death, not in life. What was to be done with his brother and sisters who would be miserable, who would not believe in his father! How was he to comfort them? They would not be comforted! Was existence, the glorious gift of his father, to be the most terrible of miseries, because some must go home before others? It was all so sad! And all because they would not know his father! Then came the reaction from his indignation, and the laboring heart of the Lord found relief in tears. The Lord saw into two worlds—saw Martha and Mary on the one side weeping, on the other Lazarus waiting for them in peace. It was hard on Lazarus to be called back into the winding-sheet of the body, a sacrifice to their faithlessness, but it should be done! Lazarus should suffer for his sisters! Through him they should be compelled to believe in the Father, and so be delivered from bondage!
The Indignation of Our Lord
by Dave Roney
“Then it was, at the sight of her and the Jews with her, that the spirit of the Lord was moved with indignation.”
From skeptics we hear, more often than we'd like, that the Bible is a book of “do's and dont's,” but those most familiar with it find it best, and best used as, a story book; one might say, at the risk of being misunderstood, as a Divine Fairy tale (or if you prefer, Fantasy) written for small children as well as adult children, all those with childlike hearts. And to avert the misconception, think of children's Bible books written in the style of the best child-fantasies, where the truth is not sacrificed, but presented in simplicity, in mental pictures and emotional colors which rivet the attention, engage the child's interest, and draw him in as a participant more than spectator; that is precisely what the Bible does in the believer. So we do not have a Book of which only wizened old men, humorless, sitting in ivory towers, dissecting analytically, drop well chewed morsels down to lesser beings below.
No, the Bible is an overarching Grand Story, with The Story subsumed beneath that canopy, and within The Story are yet smaller and more detailed chapters and sub-plots to be explored, full of action and life and excitements, but also of failures and fallings, of sin and death but also light and life and liberty. The account given us by St. John in 11:1-44 is one such particular among many others in The Story. In 2nd Timothy 3:16 St. Paul declares “All Scripture is Author-breathed and is profitable...” The profit in it isn't to foremost know it intellectually as did those old Pharisees, or our latter day Pharisees, but to be drawn in, engaged, affected, changed, by it so that our lives follow an ink-on-paper Map, which our Guide, the only true Map-reader, the Holy Spirit, uses to direct our feet in the ever upward direction of Christlikeness. You see, then, that rather than a book of “do's and dont's” we have a book of “to be.” Now we come again to our reading; what drama, or short story, or chapter in a book, would hold our attention if there were not in it those elements developed, set side by side, of personal failings and triumphs, of Pharisaical persnickety set over against unvarnished truth, of indolence juxtaposed with dynamic action, and the like? And our Lord has as variable, as volatile, a personality as does any other man, except without sin. No monotone God Man is He, but the replete representation of all the features of personality extended to humankind in their original making. Thus we find Him laughing and mute, filled with joy but also sorrow, and would not He also display anger?
So here in our passage we find the meek and gentle Christ, refusing human-made forms into which He He might be casted, now showing actual, open-faced, consternation and, in nearly the same moment, weeping as heartbroken! It is an indignation which shows itself physically in Him, by ruddy face, by trembling hands, by voice breaking under emotional strain, by sweat and by posture—is it these? I do not know, Scripture does not say as much, as it does in other places, giving detail as to the physical manifestations of His suffering. The Apostle does not say, I think because the Lord never told him expressly about it; that St. John recorded only what was visually obvious to him. Our Lord, on this occasion, showed and did not, or else could not, hide His anger—it is the same as with any other man—a stranger might not detect that a man is sore, but those who know him well will detect it at once; and Martha, Mary, those Jews with them, and the Apostle knew Christ well.
The penman tells us, clearly in the Greek, that Christ was truly indignant with those whom He loved, yet he offers no reason for the umbrage. That is appropriate to both the manner in which God sometimes conveys meaning to us, by not speaking all His mind, and also to the constitution of the creature bearing the “image” of his Creator—for here, as in other places, we are called upon to employ our imagination for understanding, which is an asset of our Maker included in our “image” of Him. And through the window of imagination I will tell you a little of what I see concerning these things.
There are, as I now suppose, at least three reasons for the Lord's indignation on this occasion. First among these is their lack of faith—I will refer here only to Martha; her lack of faith may not be which we ordinarily think. She possessed the necessary faith that Christ could keep her brother from dying (“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”). She likewise possessed sufficient faith that even though Lazarus had died, Christ could restore him to her (“But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you!”). Her faithlessness must, then, lie in some other yet more important area, one which we all must face. Namely, while she possessed faith in Christ she failed to have faith in His Father, in the sense that He is doing the best for Lazarus and for her. She was close to Christ but far from His ever-present thought and intent exemplified in His own tortured praying; “Nevertheless, not My will but Thy will be done!” So intent was Martha on using Christ to perform a good thing she entirely ignored that God was doing the best thing, in effect her heart was praying “Not Your will but let mine be done!” And by the intimacy between Jesus and her, by her knowledge of what manner of man He was, by His consistent example set before her, this failing was less excusable than that of a stranger. Therefore, our Lord was angered because she, and those with her, did not see that He was ever doing the will of His Father, and accept that Will as the best.
Secondly, our Lord was indignant not for any velvet gloved insult to Him, but to His Father and hers; for God our Father deserves better. By Christ God shows truly and precisely all there is that can be known concerning Him; if Christ were indignant, it is because He is following His Father entirely, the anger is not of Himself nor for Himself; it is a mirror image of the indignation, both in degree and type, that was welled up in the bosom of the Unseen God. It is as though (again, I employ imagination) one who surely ought to have known better were to ignore the Old Testament proscriptions and fling back the curtain, to enter into the inner sanctum of the Holy place or, if the Tabernacle setting is unclear, to come into His presence brashly, presenting selfish desires, for personal gratification rather than to “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!” In 5:23 of this same Gospel the Lord's word is this; “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, Who sent him!” Thus we see that when Martha chose her own desire for a good thing over the best which God had done the Father, Who deserves better from us, was dishonored. And for this our Lord became indignant.
And, thirdly, our Lord became indignant because Lazarus himself deserved better. The will of God, which is His desire, was to have the man with Him; He would kiss the beloved face, draw this child to His bosom in the eternal embrace of Love Divine, would heal and restore him throughout, in body and mind and spirit, and bequeath to him that Life by which a man never dies. Yet somehow (I know not how) Lazarus had been prevented his rest, had been held in some limbo, had soul-slept for four days, or had been held in some stasis by God since He knew what His Son would do—bring the man from the lip of eternity and send him back into time, fraught with its problems, to again face death at some future date as is appointed to all men. This disservice to her brother, so selfish, so ignoring of everything outside the circumference of her desire, was cause for our Lord to become indignant:
“They wept as those who believe in death, not in life. What was to be done with His brothers and sisters who would be miserable, who would not believe in His Father! How was He to comfort them? They would not be comforted! Was existence, the glorious gift of His Father, to be the most terrible of miseries, because some must go home before others? It was all so sad! And all because they would not know His Father. Then came the reaction from His indignation...It was hard for Lazarus to be called back...but it should be done! Lazarus must suffer for his sisters!”
Jesus wept in compassion. Jesus was indignant for injustices done. Jesus brought life out of death. And when He had done these things He lifted His voice to Heaven and prayed:
“Father, I thank you that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that You sent Me.”
And somehow God is always able to turn the evil to the good, to take that which is utterly broken and make it whole, to bring life out death, and in the end of all things to gain Victory. Such is our God...