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"Questions for Jesus: Don't You Care?"
April 10, 2011
Over the last few weeks, we've been looking at questions, questions for Jesus. People asked things of Jesus, of course. They came to him with questions, hoping he would answer, expecting him to answer.
The questions Jesus heard would be all over the map. There would be questions for action: "Jesus, can you make my child well?" There would be questions for clarification: "Jesus, how can one be born anew?" There were questions meant to trip up and entrap: "Jesus, should we pay taxes to Caesar?"
Sometimes these questions were more implied than said aloud. Sometimes the question one would expressly ask Jesus was not the question that the person was really asking. And at times (perhaps very often) Jesus would be asked a question that showed that the questioner had some serious misunderstandings Jesus would have to correct.
All these questions; all this variety. This shouldn't surprise us, that there would be such variety in the questions put to Jesus. For we find in life that questions come up in all kinds of ways, reflecting the full range of human situations, with all the perspectives from which human beings might perceive, with every form of understanding and misunderstanding we might have.
And these questions of ours, in all their variety of situation and perspective, understanding and misunderstanding, likewise reflect the full range of human emotion. It is not the case that we ask questions only from a place of calm repose or cool rationality. We ask questions, too, out of anger, or sorrow, or joy, or perplexity, or pain, and with such emotion we question ourselves, our loved ones, indeed our Lord.
Those of us who are parents, and those of us who are or have been teachers, know the emotional weight that can accompany and drive some questions. The "why" of a fearful child or a battle-scarred student asks for more than mere data. It seeks healing, safety, justice. Questions can be unexpectedly emotional, or arise from or touch on an emotional core, a place that may scare to pieces the one who is questioned, or the one who does the questioning.
Of course, it's not only teachers and parents. Many have been put in a position where questions and questioning touch the raw emotional core of someone's life. I've been reading the newest book by productivity expert David Allen. In one spot, he talks of the recent popularity of "personal organizing," and then relates how a national publication found that
[s]alespeople in the stores catering to the organizing bug were dealing with customers breaking into tears as they asked them helpful questions about what they needed to organize.(Making It All Work, p. 105.)
I'm not sure they train for that at Staples.
This all connects with one reason, I think, why some parents feel threatened by questions: because they can sense the emotion behind the question; they feel the turmoil that curdles beneath the surface of the question; they see the anger that threatens, if not satisfied, to unleash a torrent of other questions, deeper ones, harder ones, angrier ones, questions that could, they fear, destroy the fragile hierarchy of parent and child they have constructed through stingy and defensive responsiveness to questions.
And then, for all to many of us, we take that defensiveness about emotionally fraught questions and transfer it to, of all places, our understanding of God. We take our own sense that, just as parents should not be "questioned" by their children, so too ought we, as children of God, not to question our Lord. Questions that push too hard, questions that are asked through shouts or tears, these make us uncomfortable. So we seem to assume that, if we're uncomfortable with such questions, so too must God be uncomfortable with them.
Our scripture passage for today, containing the last in our series of questions for Jesus, offers us a very different understanding of the kind of questioning it is appropriate to direct to our Lord. Here, we see an example of emotional questioning, a question for Jesus that arises out of great pain and sorrow, a question that in its hurt and disappointment may sound like a faithless challenge to Jesus. And yet, we see, Jesus accepts the question, and the questioner, blessing and transforming both.
This was the situation:
Jesus hears that his friend, Lazarus, was very ill, and close to death. The sisters of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, send word to Jesus. "Please come quickly. Lazarus needs you. We need you."
So, when Jesus gets the message, what does he do? Does he rush right to their place, to be near to Lazarus, indeed to heal him, before it's too late? No. He dilly-dallies, until it's clear that Lazarus is dead.
When he finally makes it to the village where Lazarus was, he is greeted by Martha.
It must have been an awkward moment.
For she asks Jesus some questions that come right from her pain, speaking from her loss all the sorrow she felt in that moment.
"Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died."
Ouch. That must have hurt. For, truly, this all was meant to have Jesus answer for himself, to ask him, "Why weren't you here? Don't you care?"
I think it's important for us to dwell on that for a bit. Martha clearly wishes Jesus had been there. Clearly, she is asking why he was not. She is wondering about his love and care for Lazarus, for her and her sister. She doesn't keep this to herself. She doesn't bury it away. She expresses to Jesus her sorrow, her hurt, her questioning, her doubting. Why weren't you here, Jesus? Don't you care, Jesus?
And yet, this was not a questioning that was empty of faith. For Martha goes on to say, "But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him." She is disappointed. She wonders about his intentions, his commitment. Her questioning expresses all that. And yet, all this disappointed questioning arises from and is confirmed in the faith she had in him. "But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him." Even now. You have let me down. I'm not entirely sure of your love and care. Yet, nonetheless, I know that you are able to do much. Will you, Lord?
This is not faithless questioning. No, this questioning is quite faithful. It arises from faith that Jesus is able to hear her questioning cry. It arises from faith that he can receive it and bear it. It arises from faith that Jesus is able to do something with her cry, that the future will be different by the hand of the one who has heard her, even through tears of anger and hurt.
Not all questions that came to Jesus that day were so faithful. For there were other questions, asked from those who did not love Jesus but despised him, those who did not have faith in him but derided such faith. As Jesus a little bit later wept outside of Lazarus' tomb, leading some to remark on Jesus' love for his friend -- "See how he loved him!" -- others scoffed at both his love and his power: "He opened a blind man's eyes, and yet he couldn't keep his friend, whom he supposedly loves, from dying. He doesn't really care for people. He just cares for himself and his fame. All he does is just for show."
Martha, though, asks her questions from a very different perspective, the perspective of faith, even as this faith weeps with loss that is fresh and raw and, even, to some extent, a cause for doubting -- yet not fully. "Where were you?" she asks. "Don't you care?" she asks, knowing that he does care, that he is with her now, that her questioning cry will be answered.
And truly, that is what happens. Jesus does not reject her question. He does not tell her that she is faithless for asking. He does not scold her for doubting. No, he receives the question, and answers it … with himself.
"I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die."
Jesus answers Martha with assurance, not that it will be all right, eventually, but that he is the one who makes it all right, now and forever.
I am the resurrection. I am the life. Belief in me means life, not death; hope, not despair; the true beginning, not a sorrowful end. I am the resurrection and the life, says Jesus.
So it is for Martha. And what about us? What does this say, to us, for us?
Quite a lot, I believe.
Sometimes we wonder whether Jesus really cares. Sometimes we just have to cry out in despair, as his help is delayed, as others are attended to while we feel overlooked.
Martha shows us that the cry of "don't you care, Lord?", the heartfelt question of "Where were you, Lord?" can be truly a question of faith.
And Jesus shows us that he does care, that even when he appears to be absent he still loves his own, even in the midst of death he gives life to his own.
Let me tell you this. Quite likely, there will be times when you wonder whether Jesus cares, difficult times in which the feeling of abandonment is so strong.
You might think that the thing to do is to keep your uncertainty inside and to yourself. You might think that the faithful, "Christian," thing to do is to keep your lack of faith unexpressed.
But what Martha and Jesus show us is that the faithful thing to do is to express to the Lord your fear, your doubt, your questions, to divulge to him that at times you wonder whether he cares. For simply the expression of this is a sign of trust in his care. Jesus is big enough, strong enough, loving enough to receive our questioning and doubting, to receive these and transform them.
Martha tells Jesus of her sorrow and disappointment. He does not scold her. He does not reject her. Her assures her. He weeps with her. And then he takes up her cause, and gives her the gift of life.
So are we to tell Jesus of our struggles, our disappointments, our fears, our doubts. So are we to question him with a faithful "Don't you care, Lord?" and a trusting "Where were you, Lord?" For in such questioning we show that we do trust and have faith in the Lord who is full of compassion and love.
And so, too, are we, as those who are loved and forgiven and blessed and healed by this compassionate, loving Christ, so are we to be willing to hear the questions of others who struggle, those who wonder about the Lord's presence and love, those who ask "Does he really care?" and "Is he really here?"
We, as Christ's disciples, are to listen compassionately to the cries of doubt from those who want to believe but who struggle with belief. We're not to judge them. We're not to reject their questioning cry. We're not to change the subject. We're to sit with those who weep and lament, to hear their sorrow and indeed to weep with them, too, to shed tears of sorrow, yes, but truly also tears of faith and hope and trust in God, who in Christ Jesus has taken up our sorrow, borne our weakness, identified with our suffering and shame, this same Jesus who says to us, "I am the resurrection and the life."
May God give us the grace, the courage, and the wisdom, to listen when
we should listen, to speak when we should speak, to cry when we should
cry, doing all these out of faith in the One who is the resurrection
and the life.
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