Presence in a broken world
The news bleeds through television screens, Facebook news feeds and Twitter accounts. Ongoing war in the Middle East and acute persecution of Iraqi Christians (along with others) weighs on the hearts and minds of people around the globe.
Surveying the flood of information, I wrestle yet again with the problem of evil and long for God to do something, to fix this. I play Bruce Cockburn’s “If I Had A Rocket Launcher” and resonate with the vindictive plans that seem to be at odds with my anemic Anabaptist pacifism.
Like many before me, I look to Jesus to fix it.
What about today?
One day in the midst of this news, while I was continuing a study of John’s Gospel, I came to John 11. This is the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus’ friend Lazarus. Lazarus’s sister Martha confronts Jesus:
Martha: If you would have been here my brother would not have died!
Jesus: Martha, I am the resurrection and the life. Your brother will rise again.
Martha: I know he will rise someday, and that you will make everything right, but what about today? (vs. 21–27) .
We, like Martha, want Jesus to fix the broken condition of our world. But before realizing their hopes, Jesus encounters Lazarus’s other sister, Mary, who is weeping.
“Jesus was deeply moved [embrimaomai] and troubled” (v. 33). The Greek word indicates that the essence of his emotion is anger. Jesus is deeply indignant that Lazarus is dead. (Remember “If I had a rocket launcher…”?) Death is an intruder. Death terrorizes what belonged to God alone.
Then…Jesus wept. Along with the sisters, he wept.
But why is Jesus so angry, why is he weeping when he knows Lazarus is about to be brought back to life? Why does Jesus feel such sorrow when he embodies the very hope that will swallow up that sorrow?
It seems that Jesus came to do more than fix what is broken. The anger and the tears speak to this. The biblical narrative reveals a God who continually chooses to be present – often without any immediate change in circumstances. From Eden until today, relationship is part of what fixing it is really all about. If our solutions do not originate from the incarnational heart, they are not the Jesus way. And if pacifism is not clothed in presence, it is not the Jesus way.
The miracle of presence
As the surrounding Jews see Jesus weeping, they exclaim, “See how he loved him!” It’s easy for the miracle of the resurrection in this story to overshadow the miracle of our God who became flesh and chose to cry tears with those who are still waiting for resurrection.
The church is to be Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:16–6:1). We are to continue – in the power of the Holy Spirit – this incarnational ministry that seeks to reconcile a broken world to a loving God. This begs the question: Do the people watching us exclaim, “See how they loved them”?
There is no doubt that acting and speaking for those who are oppressed and have no voice is a non-negotiable part of being a disciple of Jesus. However, an aspect of discipleship often gets missed in our world of quick solutions, particularly when we feel helpless and confused as to what to do. This aspect is presence – more specifically, compassionate presence (“compassion” literally means “to suffer with”).
As disciples, when we do not know what to do we should still know how to be. That is where I often lose sight of the one I am seeking to follow. We must learn to be present and suffer with those who are suffering.
As I look to Jesus and say, “Where are you? Why don’t you fix this?” I have a sense he is looking back at me saying, “I’m here. Where are you? Why are you not weeping with me?”
—Matt Dyck is Fish Creek Campus pastor at SunWest Christian Fellowship, Calgary.