Reproaching Jesus

It was the women who loved him who were willing to reproach him.

First it was his mother: “Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing” (Luke 2:48-54). She did not understand his actions, this little twelve-year old son of hers. And he didn’t seem to understand her distress. Was he preoccupied in his work, his private calling? Was he unaware of how his actions would make her feel, as emotionally obtuse as only a confident child can be? There was no apology, but his words certainly gave his mother something to think about. The text says he “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” I have to assume that along the way, he also increased in compassion.

Later (John 11) he sounded so casual, talking about his friend Lazarus sleeping, that the disciples thought Lazarus was just snoozing. “No, no,” he corrected, “Lazarus is dead, and I’m so glad, because now I can show you something that will really make you believe.” Time for a field trip.

So they went, and when he arrived, Martha, the responsible sister came out. “If thou hadst been here,” she stated, “my brother had not died.” Stating that simple fact, based on the faith that he could indeed had saved her brother, was a gentle reproach. After all, she had sent word that her brother was sick, and Jesus had assured her that the sickness would not end in death. She had believed him, and somehow she still believed, even when events proved him false.

He talked about Lazarus rising again, but Martha took that to be eschalotogical talk about the resurrection at the last day. You would think he’d have been glad that someone was taking the grand plan seriously and was not concerned about the immediate need for healing or a political messiah. But perhaps that’s because her brother had been dead for days; there’s no point in asking for help in this life when all hope is past. Just look forward to the next.

Mary, too, that sister who sat learning at his feet, even when there was housework to be done, reproached him. “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.” She was weeping. And Jesus had grown up from the twelve year old who seemed to not notice the distress he had caused his mother. Jesus saw her weeping, surrounded by mourners, and he was troubled. Jesus wept.

The Jews attributed Jesus’ tears to his love of Lazarus. I prefer to attribute at least some of those tears to compassion, to the sympathetic pain he felt with Martha and Mary. These women believed in him, trusted him, and although he failed to save their brother, they still believed in him, even through their broken hearts. I can’t go so far as to attribute his tears to guilt, or regret, because he was perfect, right? but part of me wants some of those tears to be an acknowledgement that he too bore some responsibility for their pain.

From his conversation with his disciples before traveling to Lazarus’ home, it is clear the Jesus chose to let Lazarus die, to show both his foreknowledge and his power over death. Did he know then how much it would hurt Lazarus’ sisters to see him die? How much it would hurt him, Jesus, to see their weeping, to bear their reproaches? I thank God he had the grace to weep with them, that small foreshadowing of the passion of Gethsemane.

When we reproach Jesus for not fulfilling our expectations, we reveal how limited our expectations are, the paucity divine imagination of our little human minds.

Yet how can it be otherwise? We struggle so much for justice and fairness in our flawed relationships with each other. We make rules to help ourselves. “Don’t hurt each other. If you can help another person, you should.” But then God and Jesus violate these rules, asking for death and sacrifice and seeming to withhold blessings. Jesus allowed Lazarus to die to make a point. They don’t live by our rules. Expecting God to live by the rules of basic human decency will only lead to consternation and frustration because that expectation is inappropriate. We’ve known that since Abraham and Isaac, but we still can’t make sense of it.

We have to hope that when God fails to live up to our expectations, when He fails to heal us, when he allows us to suffer injustice, that He has some other plan for us. That when he allows our brother to die, his death may, in some unimaginable way, turn out to be a greater good than healing him would have been.

I have to hope that God will forgive us when we reproach Him, when we come to Him with our broken hearts, weeping with pain, not understanding but still believing. I have to believe that He cares when we hurt, and that it is acceptable for us to speak our hurt, even if we feel that the cause of our hurt may be God or His church. I hope that being faithful enough to acknowledge our pain may be the first step to being healed.


*These women may not have intended their statements to Jesus to be reproaches. There is no indication that they were resentful or angry. They may have been simple statements of fact or assertions of faith, but even so, there is a sense that in some way, Jesus failed them. He did not fulfill their expectations of him, and they were worrried or hurt by that perceived failure.

9 comments for “Reproaching Jesus

  1. This is beautiful, Rachel. In general, I think we Mormons could use a lot more focus on the Jesus who weeps and suffers, and not just on the celebratory Jesus of the resurrection. It is in these painful moments of sorrow that we *really* learn who Jesus is, and why the resurrection matters.

    Thanks for creating this beautiful theological space for us to own our feelings of pain without guilt.

  2. Yes, beautiful post. It seems to me that Abraham (in Gen 18), Job, Nephi, and Joseph Smith all expressed something like this kind of faithful reproach(/lament) — and I love how you emphasize how these New Testament women so nicely enact this idea.

    (Also, at first I had the thought of cheekily asking what this had to do with women and the priesthood, but then I started thinking about it….)

  3. Really beautiful, thank-you. I think this idea can be related to all faithful questioning of God.

  4. Thanks for offering this new perspective on some well known scriptural passages. I believe God wants us to be our authentic selves when we pray, even if that means we say we are angry at God or want God to change things.

  5. Thank you. It’s hard, sometimes, to reconcile the story (for instance) of God helping that general authority find a quarter so he could buy a chicken leg with my own story in which I was drowning, calling out for help, but saw only creeping black nothingness in response.

    This helps me with the puzzle I’ve been piecing together over the past year.

  6. Bethany, I think most people at one point or another struggle with the idea that God blesses one person with a seemingly trivial thing while another suffers greatly. Such is the journey through an existence built on a test of our faith. It doesn’t seem to make sense and tempts one to question whether God intervenes at all, or whether there even is a God.

    I’ll leave it up to each individual to reconcile this “theodicy” in their own way. I choose to thank God for what I have and hope to understand one day why others aren’t so blessed.

  7. Many years ago, I attended the church’s SOLE (Survivors of Life Experiences) program for abuse victims. And one of the first things they asked us in the class was how we felt about God and how we saw Him. We all gave the “right” answers, that He was perfect, omniscient, omnipotent, etc. And then the instructor gently asked us how we really felt about Him. As we gave it serious thought and attempted to be honest with ourselves, we all realized that, on varying levels, we were angry with Him – for not protecting us, for letting people do horrible things to us, for not being there when we needed Him most.
    That was for me, and for many girls in that class, the first step towards healing. Because after admitting my anger, telling God how mad I was at Him, and asking Him how He could leave me to suffer alone like that, I never sensed one word or feeling of reproach from Him. I felt only love in return – his overwhelming, all-consuming, never-ending love for me, his daughter.

    It was then that I realized He had always been there with me, even though he had let others exercise their agency for a time. And it helped me see that He was still with me and if I would let Him, He could and would heal me from the injustice and pain of this world and from the trauma of my past. And He truly has given me more healing than I ever could have imagined, including the ability to forgive those who hurt me.

    Because of this experience, I think being honest and real with Heavenly Father can bring us to a much closer relationship with Him. I think it allows Him to show us the true depths of His power. Sincere questioning and a poignant desire to understand the injustices of this life may bring the healing we most need, even if doesn’t come about in exactly the way we hoped for. But, you never know, it may actually exceed all our hopes in the end.

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