Posted by: Taylor | July 29, 2011

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.



  1. Incredible insight into a well known passage. It makes me feel like I was there with Mary and Martha and Jesus. It touches my heart to see how Jesus did not rebuke either sister but loved them and met their needs.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: