Lessons learned from deep disappointment

Published 1:42 pm Sunday, March 26, 2023

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Relationships are such fragile compositions. We think that close or family relationships are supposed to be unbreakable. Unconditional. But it’s not true. Everyone has their limits, don’t we? 

In even the closest and most constant relationships, there has to be an amount of care and nurture. Let me ask you, when have you been disappointed by someone you loved dearly? To be clear, I don’t mean a mild disappointment. I’m talking about real disappointment. The kind of episode where you’re not sure the trust hasn’t been broken. 

If you can get that fixed in your head, you are in the right frame of mind to consider the scripture story you just heard. Everything changed when Jesus came to walk among us. Everything. 

But it doesn’t mean that the human Jesus didn’t have to live within the complications of earthly relationships. It certainly doesn’t mean that he didn’t sometimes disappoint people. Our Lord may have been perfect if we only take “sin” into consideration. But people did get upset with him. 

His home crowd got upset with him for simply reading the scripture and then telling them that he was the fulfillment of it. Go ask the Syro-Phoenecian Woman in the early moments of her confrontation with Jesus to fill out a Google Review on our Lord. I’m pretty sure the Brood of Vipers, the White-Washed Fence otherwise known as the church leaders, were clear in how they felt about Jesus. It wasn’t good. They took him to a Cross. 

This one today is different, though, somehow. Maybe it’s because of the closeness Jesus shared with Mary, Martha and Lazarus. After Jesus’ own flesh-and-blood didn’t support his ministry in its early days, and after his home synagogue reacted so violently, this family was where we saw Jesus go when he needed a touch of home. 

They were his chosen family: Mary, her sister Martha and their brother Lazarus. This was the house where Jesus could walk in the back door, grab a drink out of the fridge, eat up the last of the leftovers, change the channel on the tv and even put his bare feet up on the glass coffee table – and still no one would fuss at him.

It’s gripping, then, to watch as Martha and then Mary both pointedly tell Jesus that if only he had gotten there sooner, their brother wouldn’t have died. They are not shy about identifying Jesus as part of the problem. 

Physical illness and death are indeed possibilities in the biological world in which we live. That isn’t for us to negotiate, nor is it always for us to like. But things do happen that are unfortunate. We know this by now, you and me.

When our loved ones are ill or die, it absolutely breaks our hearts. But it is inevitable and it does indeed happen. This is a story filled with the inevitability of suffering, and yet within that vulnerability – God was still very much at work.

God cares deeply about all of Creation, including you and me. The fact that there is illness and death does not change that. “Jesus wept.” I’ve heard people try to explain that one away. I’ve heard the kind of people who would try to tell you at a funeral not to be sad when your loved one dies, suggesting that Jesus wasn’t crying because he was sad.

As if tears at a death or illness are a sign of a lack of faith. As though to suggest that our Lord is too strong, too bullet-proof, to be sad. Suggesting that we shouldn’t be sad, either. I think it misses the scriptural point.

Let me ask you, have you ever been able to stand strong when people you really care about are as sad as Lazarus’ family were? When someone you love deeply is upset, aren’t you too? You probably are if there’s a human being in there. 

The scripture here tells us that’s where Jesus was. It says, “When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.”

Does that sound to you like he was just weeping for show? Weeping strategically to make some point? I don’t think so. This Lenten season, we have the chance to get more deeply acquainted with a God who came to live with us up close. A God who has lived life’s worst disappointments with us, and who cares actively about us.

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.