I grew up attending a small Christian school. By 9th grade my entire class consisted of 40 kids, most of whom I’d known since pre-school. Each year the start of school was an exciting time: Would there be any new students? Would there be any cute guys?
With each new student there was a rush to introduce yourself to them, before someone else could tell them about you. We’d all grown up together and we could tell all sorts of stories that could either be flattering or fatal. As you know, the first impression is the strongest, so that story was very important.
Growing up in a TV generation, it’s easy to forget that people can have many shades to their character. In the modern sitcom each character has their label: the jock, the funny guy, the pretty girl, the nerdy guy, the mean girl, etc. Unless the series runs for a long period of time, these characters end up staying pretty one-dimensional. This is not real life though. People can be the hero and the villain, the jock and the science-geek.
Today I was reading John 11 for my devotions and I found a description of some familiar characters that surprised me. Like my relationship with my classmates, I have been familiar with these people for some time and I thought I knew them. Today I saw a different side of their character that prompted me to look deeper into their personal histories.
The story of Lazarus’ death and restoration to life is one that is familiar to every Sunday school child. Everyone knows how Jesus waited to heal Lazarus so that instead He could raise him from the dead. But there are people in this story who are well known for their other appearances in the Gospels: Thomas and Martha. They behave in this situation in ways that are contrary to what’s popularly believed of them.
Thomas is the doubter. He’s the one who wouldn’t believe that Jesus had risen from the dead just by the word of his fellow disciples. He said he needed to see Jesus to believe it. Now really, who could blame him? But, after His resurrection Jesus appeared to Thomas to prove to him that He was really alive.
Everyone looks down on Thomas because he had little faith. Here in John 11, a different shade of Thomas’ personality appears. Jesus and his disciples had just fled Judea because the people had tried to stone Jesus to death. Now, Jesus tells His disciples that they are going to return to Judea, to Bethany, to go to Lazarus. The other disciples try to dissuade Jesus from His purpose, but Thomas says these faith-filled words, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.” (1 Jn 11:16)
Ok, so they don’t seem so full of faith, because he’s expecting that they’ll die. But, he is the only one that is mentioned as being willing to follow Jesus into death. He believes in Jesus and what He’s doing so much that he will lose his life to follow Him. That’s pretty gutsy. A lot of people wouldn’t want to be compared to Thomas because he has a bad rap as being a doubter. But I wouldn’t mind being aligned with this Thomas, because he’s willing to die for Jesus.
What woman hasn’t worried that she’s being a Martha? Whole women’s retreats are created around minimizing the Martha in you and being more like Mary. Martha was the woman who chose to worry about getting dinner for Jesus and His entourage instead of sitting at His feet and listening to His teaching. Not only was she not spending time with Him, she got frustrated with her sister for not helping her. Thinking Jesus would support her cause, she turned to Him for help and ended up being told she was in the wrong.
Again, this is not a person most people would want to be compared to. But, as with Thomas, John 11 shows a new Martha. A number of Jews had come to Martha and Mary’s home to be with them at the time of their brother’s death. Yet when Martha heard that Jesus was coming she dropped what she was doing and went to meet Him.
Here’s where Martha shows incredible faith in Jesus, despite His not coming to heal her brother. Martha greets Jesus by saying, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give you.” (1 Jn 11:21-22) She knows that Jesus is capable of healing anyone and she only wishes He could have gotten there earlier. Moments later she proclaims her belief even more fully, “…I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” (1 Jn 11:27)
How many people, having just lost a loved one, would be able to proclaim this? I know a number of people who have prayed for God to heal their family member or friend and then watched as that healing didn’t come. It’s not an easy thing to say the words that Martha said to Jesus after that happens.
Depending on the situation, people can appear in numerous ways: generous, selfish, friendly, prideful, etc. You never know the impression someone could get from you after sharing just one moment of your life. I know that within myself there are two people battling it out. There’s the Melissa that is of the flesh and there is the Melissa that is of the Spirit. I try hard to keep the latter one at the forefront, but there are times where the fleshy Melissa rears it’s ugly head.
This passage reminded me that those people who I have dismissed as being a certain way might actually be vastly different than my first impression. I need to be willing to be surprised by them and give people a second chance.