“But some of them said, ‘Couldn’t He who opened the blind man’s eyes also have kept this man from dying?’” (John 11:37)
Martha was the first to verbalize this negative sentiment: “Lord, if You had been here my brother wouldn’t have died.” Later, Mary reinforced it: “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Some who came to support them in their grief aimed the same feeling toward Jesus in the question above.
Understand this as a criticism of Jesus. That’s what it was. The real thought being expressed but not actually stated is: “So, why weren’t You here when we needed You? Why didn’t You come when we sent word, when You had the chance to save Him? Now, it’s too late. You should have and could have done something about this, but You chose to delay. We thought You were his friend.” See the anger and hurt in their eyes.
Think a moment about perceptions. Martha saw Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God. Mary no doubt did too. Whether others around them did or not is not clear. But the typical understanding of Messiah in that time did not see the Messiah as necessarily divine but as a warrior son of David, anointed by God to restore Israel. In their view, the Messiah would be endowed by God with great power and authority. So now, some of the people are doubting Him. The real problem they were dealing with was their perception: they did not see beyond what they were seeing. Their perception of Him was limited, governed by their surface understanding. Their perception would soon be challenged as Jesus began to walk toward the tomb of Lazarus. In fact, their entire understanding of Jesus would be stunned with the raising of Lazarus.
We sometimes think we have a complete understanding of who Jesus is, of who God is. To be sure, the Bible provides us with a clear and in-depth understanding of the Lord, but it is tailored to our capabilities of perception. We can build a solid theology of God and of Christ, but we still must recognize that who God is goes beyond our perceptions. That is why we have faith. The first question Jesus asked Martha was, “Do you believe…?” Faith is what carries us beyond the limitation of our perceptions.