In one of his homilies, Bishop Robert Barron takes note of how Jesus, in his sermon on the mount, describes his followers as salt, light, and “a city on a hill.” He points out, “All these things exist not for themselves, but for something else.” Salt suppresses spoilage in food, light makes it possible to see what it shines on, and a city on a hill was a handy guide to orient travelers on their way.
All these underscore the foundational truth that “it’s not about you.” Each of us is here so that God can use us to benefit someone else. This is not a secret. After saying that loving God was the first and most basic commandment, Jesus went on to say that the second commandment was like it. That was the command to love others, or, as Paul explained, to serve them.
There are times when it is difficult to take joy in being used like that, even if it brings joy to God. I noticed one of these moments that I had failed to see before in the story about the death of Lazarus. After getting the message about his sick friend from Martha, Jesus fails to move.
John 11:4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.
What I had failed to pay attention to was something Jesus said to his disciples at that time. The disciples had misunderstood how serious things were with Lazarus and they thought it would be dangerous for Jesus to go back so near to Jerusalem.
John 14:14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.”
One of the most memorable moments in the Gospels (and the shortest verse in the Bible) descibes when Jesus finally stands in front of the tomb of Lazarus.
John 11:35 Jesus wept.
I would assume Lazarus had done some weeping of his own while he waited for his friend to come and rescue him. His tears would have been flowing at the same time Jesus was telling his disciples how glad he was for their sake that the whole tragedy was unfolding around his other beloved friends.
There is no way to understand such an attitude if our focus is fastened only on the narrow events and moments as Lazarus experienced them. They were not about him. They were not for his benefit. His experience was that of salt and light and being a city on a hill. He was there for someone else’s benefit.
It’s not that Jesus had no tears for him. He had more. And what he was providing was for the benefit of so many more than just his friend.