Her story has been told for two-thousand years, just as Jesus said it would be. The one who boldly committed a social faux pas by interrupting a culturally male-dominated meeting, causing a heavy silence to fall in the room as she walked up to Jesus with her alabaster jar, is revered as a wonder throughout church history. As she knelt before Jesus and poured out on his feet her expensive perfume, mingling it with her tears, she inspired countless worship songs, moving paintings, and Believers of all ages to pour out their own devotion. Mary's story of extravagant worship is one so familiar and sweet to our hearts. But this act of extravagant worship that Mary offered didn't start at the doors of that room - it started much earlier with the news, "The one that you love is sick."
The "one that you love" referred to Lazarus, a close friend and companion of Jesus. The bible says not once but twice that Jesus loved Lazarus, as well and his sisters, Mary and Martha (John 11:3,5). Jesus loved them so much that He chose to stay at their house the week before His passion. This shows us, then, that there was a close familial affection between Jesus and this family, so close that Jesus found comfort among them before his darkest day in history, and so close that the sisters didn't think twice as to call Lazarus the one Jesus loved. So when the sisters sent word to Jesus that His beloved friend was deathly ill, we can rest assured that the news would have deeply stirred Jesus. This was no small request from His friends - death was approaching; He needed to come at once.
But Jesus didn't come.
The bible says that when the news of Lazarus' grave illness reached him, Jesus stayed where he was for two more days. The one that He loved was about to die and Jesus chose to wait. Why? Because He was calloused? Because He was too busy? No. The bible tells us that Jesus chose not to come then because God would receive glory in Lazarus' death.
So Jesus didn't come.
It's easy for us who know the rest of the story to not take into account the emotional trauma this would have caused the family. The doubts. The questions. The feelings of betrayal would have been swirling around in their hearts. They had sent a request to their beloved friend and He had denied it.
He didn't come.
For those of us who know the rest of the story, we can neglect to see in the story the shock that Lazarus, Mary, and Martha would have felt. We know that Jesus will resurrect Lazarus soon. We know; they didn't. We know that this resurrection will kickstart the week of Jesus' passion, bringing salvation to the world. We know; they didn't. We know that this event will be the reason for Mary's extravagant devotion that inspires countless people for the ages. We know; they didn't. All they knew was that Jesus hadn't come and their hearts were shattered in the confusion.
When Jesus finally does arrive on the scene, it is too late. Lazarus is dead and has been buried for four days. Still, when word reaches the sisters that Jesus is approaching, Martha jumps up and runs to meet him. But Mary? Mary doesn't respond. I imagine that her tears have all but run dry. She is like a stone, staring blankly into the void. She is numb, so frozen in her grief that she sits unmoved by Jesus' coming. "What's the point?" her heart whispers. "Why come now? It's too late. He. Didn't. Come." But after a while, Martha returns from her time with Jesus and says this little phrase to her sister:
"The Teacher has come and He's calling for you."
And therein lies the glory of God.
With this little phrase, "The teacher has come and is calling for you," lies a glory that most will pass over. Mary most certainly did at first. At those words - the teacher has come - Mary's frozen heart began to thaw from the fires of unfettered emotion. The drought of tears suddenly ends as her eyes well up with pain. "NOW He comes? Now?" Her heart no longer whispered its torment: now it screamed. It was enough to jolt her from her frozenness, enough to make her wobbly legs stumble towards the door. "Now he comes." What a mockery it must have felt like. The agony of her heart suddenly brought a speed to her stride as she ran with all her might, angry tears streaming down her face, throwing herself at the feet of the One who hadn't come on time. With trembling hands clinging to him, she wept at his feet - pouring out all of the pain, the betrayal, the doubt, the anger there upon Him. Martha had offered him trite responses in her interaction with Jesus: "I believe that You are the Christ"; but Mary only had accusation. "Lord," she moaned, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died."
If you had been here. But you didn't come.
But now, he had come. And how had he come? "The teacher has come."
He could have come as so many things: Healer. Resurrector. Friend. But He came as Teacher. Why? Because in this place of shattered hopes, in this place of seeming betrayal, Jesus had something to teach Mary - something far more important than even raising the dead. Sure - God would ultimately receive glory from Lazarus' resurrection, but the hidden glory so many miss - that precious gift of inner glory, not just outward, miraculous glory - came in the lesson Jesus wanted to teach Mary. As Mary lay there at His feet in brokenness, she got to experience something Martha had not. Martha had given Jesus answers to her own doubts, saying, "I know" to Him three times. She offered her best answers to Jesus, so He, in turn, gave answers back to her (John 11:21-27). What she gave, Jesus gave back. But, Mary - Mary gave tears. Just once sentence. Just one phrase with no answers. Then - just tears. All she had for him were tears. So Jesus gave her back the same: tears for tears. The bible says that her response stirred him so deeply in his spirit, that He sat there with her and wept (John 11:32-35). She got to experience the heartbreak of Jesus as the man acquainted with grief. She got to experience Him as the one who shares our burdens and bears our sorrows. The teacher had come and he was calling to her, "Give me your tears. Let me weep with you."
In seasons of grief and pain, we cry out for Jesus to come to us as Healer. "Come, Lord," we cry, "as Deliverer and take away this pain!" But so often, like with Mary, it is in that place that Jesus wants to come to us as Teacher. Not as Answer Giver but as Teacher. For the best teachers don't give answers - they stir up the heart by asking us questions that cause our hearts to think beyond the surface. Jesus wants to step into our questions, he wants to step into our grief as Teacher. He calls to us in the midst of it to come and learn from Him (Matthew 11:29) There is a lesson there in the pain and grief, so don't rush away from it: close your eyes and hear the Teacher calling you by name.
Too many Christians believe that healing means never hurting and this is simply denying the truth. The truth is that life will never be completely free from hurt until Jesus returns, especially hurts that involve loss. Sure, the wound becomes a scar. Sure, Lazarus get resurrected in the end. But when we find Jesus as the Teacher in the midst of that pain, not denying the pain, a different kind of healing comes. We get healed, not always from the hurt, but from the ability of that hurt to hinder us and define us. And here we learn that worship doesn't simply look like alabaster jars being poured out at His feet: it also looks like grief, despair, and anger being offered there. I think that Mary's tears at Jesus' feet there at the graveside of her brother meant just as much, if not more than, her alabaster box. For here it cost her more. More than a dowry. More than the price of the perfume. Here it cost her her honest vulnerability. Here it made her face the very One that disappointed her. And there - Jesus wept with her.
When we learn that worship is bringing everything to Jesus, not just songs and praise, but grief and sorrow, we find the Teacher there calling us by name. There we learn that He doesn’t answer all of our questions but he silences all of our doubts. He looks at us with tears in his eyes and says, “You may shed tears until your very last day, but go ahead - I catch every one of them and I weep with you”…and you BELIEVE Him. That’s the healing.
In my season of grief, I have found the courage to admit that I can have pain and promise, wounds and worship, hurts and healing, all in the same vessel. And if I listen closely, I can hear the Teacher call my name and trust that, although I may want Him to come to me as another, how He chooses to come in that moment is for my good. There is a lesson there. All He asks is that I come. So whether in sorrow at a graveside or whether in thanksgiving at a feast, my worship is all the same to Him.
And that's the lesson He wants to teach us.
He has come - just not always in the timing or in the way we expect.
There in your pain, the Teacher has come and He's calling for you. Now the question remains: will you let him teach you there?