Dealing with Grief the Martha and Mary Way: Observations from John 11

Martha and Mary are as different as Republicans and Democrats.  Martha is stoic and logical.  Mary shows her emotions openly and allows them to rule her heart. 

Is one better than the other?  No.  In the scenes before us, Jesus speaks to both women with tenderness and compassion, and yet, he speaks to each in her heart language.

Martha approaches Jesus in John 11:21 with stoic bravery and facts. 

                                         “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

A truth statement, said with logic and without emotion.  Martha goes on, “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”

Her concept of God is accurate.  Her theology is correct.  She has reasoned that God is able to do anything He wishes.

Jesus then answers her in kind, “Your brother will rise again.”  Jesus speaks without emotion, but with strong truth.  Her brother will rise again, a true fact.

Martha again replies with sound theology and doctrine.  “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Jesus now gives her a deeper understanding of the resurrection and Himself.  “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever, believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.  Do you believe this?”

This almost sounds like a confirmation class.  The student is given a question in which they are to respond with a theological or doctrinal statement in return.  Jesus is addressing Martha’s spiritual need with sound doctrine and theology.  And she responds well to His encouragement.  

“Yes, Lord; I believe…”

But what does she believe? 

“…You are the Christ, the son of God, who is coming into the world.”

This is an awesome confession by a woman of her time.  In fact, the only other person I can remember making such a confession in the scriptures is Peter.  And so, Jesus comforts Martha with theology. 

But, what about Mary?

Mary did not come when news first arrived that Jesus was there.  In fact, it took Martha going to Mary and telling her that Jesus was calling for her before she would go out to see Him.  Why?

It becomes evident that Mary is deeply hurt that Jesus delayed in coming.  Jesus was their friend.  He loved their family and her brother.  How could He not have come quickly?

Mary runs to meet Him, tears still streaking her face, she falls at His feet, and cries out to Him.   

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

The same words Martha had used with cool logic, Mary gushes out with uncontrolled pain and sorrow.

Jesus is her Savior.  Jesus is her healer.  Jesus should have been there.  The emotions are raw.  Death is raw and it rips away all our masks and filters.  Mary doesn’t want theological arguments.  She is in pain and she needs more than words.  She needs action!

So, how does Jesus respond to her?  Do we get a repeat of the calm conversation He had with Martha? 

“Your brother will rise again…I am the resurrection and the life…”


The atmosphere is charged.  Emotions are frayed.  And Jesus is deeply moved and troubled by the suffering of His friend.

A moment ago, He was the theologian reminding His friend of the truth of God.  Now, He is buried deep in the emotion of grief and loss experienced by this friend.  Mary needed action, not words.

What was Jesus’ action?

He wept.  He empathized.  He joined Mary where she was and wept with her.

I remember a story of a man whose wife died suddenly.  He was an older gentleman, but the suddenness of his loss hit him extremely hard.  He cried often and went out little.

Next door to this man lived a small family with a four year old boy.  He asked his father, “Why does Mr. Smith cry so much now?”

His daddy told him, “Mr. Smith misses his wife very much since she died and he cries when he thinks of her.

The next day the little boy’s father could not find his son.  After looking in the house and the backyard, he headed out the front door to search the neighborhood.  As he reached the end of the drive, he saw his son.  He was sitting in Mr. Smith’s lap.  They were rocking in a chair on Mr. Smith’s front porch crying together.

When his father got his son home, he asked him what he was doing.  His son simply said, “Nothing, I was just helping him cry.”

Sometimes we need the reassuring truth of God’s Word to comfort us.  And then, sometimes, we just need someone to “help us cry.”  Both are of God.  One is the strong Word of God, and the other is the strong arms and hands of God. 

Which do you need?  Which do you need to give?  Listen carefully and give generously.


A Prayer at the Grave of Lazarus

Father, your compassion toward our plight as frail, weak, sinners who are all doomed to death is amazing.  We deserve our punishment, and yet you do not wish it upon us.

I wonder…when Lazarus died, what was it that made you cry?

Was it his death?  A death of a close friend?  Yes…

Was it the reality of death?  Pain, suffering, loss?  Yes…

Was it the rememberance of the 1st death?  The first garden, no corruption, physical and spiritual death?  Yes…

But, I also think you cried because of another death…the death of a relationship, and friendship, and all that that death signified.  Death is destruction. Death is the result of sin.  Death is saying, “I don’t need God,” in Jesus’ case, “I don’t need you!”

I wonder…when Jesus wept did He weep only with compassion and empathy, or did He also weep for the lost relationship with humanity, His own creation.

Thank you Father for valuing that which we don’t, and loving that which does not deserve it.  Forgive me Lord for not loving and treasuring those things which you do.  Help me today to love as you love and treasure what you treasure.  I love you…

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Work of a Believer in Christ

Everyone wants to know who Jesus really is.  Even the Jewish leaders of His own day wanted to know who He was.  Jesus’ simply statement about about Himself can be found in John 10:25-26.  Jesus said, “The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me…”

If Jesus’ works bear witness to who He is, then our works also bear witness as to who and whose we are.  Those who do not believe are not part of Jesus’ flock, but those who do the work of Jesus are.  What is the work of a true believer in Christ?  To believe.

God has called us to have faith in His work for us.  Jesus accomplished the work of the Law (salvation) on our behalf.  The work which every believer must do to inherit eternal life is to believe in that work.

How about you?  What do you believe in?

John 10:22-26

I and the Father Are One

22At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock.