John 11 is a perfect, biblical example for those looking to protest. I’ll explain.
In the story, Lazarus gets sick and dies. Martha’s enraged as she mourns her brother’s death, so she marches to the edge of town and waits for Jesus.
Four days later, Jesus arrives and hears Martha lament, “Lord, if you would have been here, my brother would not have died.”
Anyone who has lost a family member, a friend, a colleague unfairly to racial injustices understands this phrase from Martha. It is the cry of protest.
And do you know how Jesus responds to her protest? He takes it. He listens. He lets her anger speak.
He doesn’t shut her down. He doesn’t overshadow or belittle her feelings. He doesn’t make himself the victim. He doesn’t talk at all. He accepts her protest. He makes room for her anger.
And, actually, for the only moment we are told about in the Gospels, he weeps.
He takes Martha’s righteous anger, hears it, holds it, meets her in the midst of it and weeps with her. This is compassion. And he offers the same for us today.
There’s a great deal of theology bound up in a painful protest like Martha’s.
Barbara Holmes is a Black, womanist theologian who speaks and writes about the theology of pain.
In her writings for the Center for Action and Contemplation, she asserts we must admit, own and enter into our sorrow. When we do, we find God.
In other words, God meets us in our pain. God shows up at our protest. Our protest, however it manifests, leads us to God.
If we believe the Bible is truth for us today, then it’s not at all a stretch to say John 11 is a wonderful, biblical example for why our Black sisters and brothers are saying (and what our national protests are screaming): “Lord, if you would have been here … Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and Tamir Rice and Treyvon Martin and Philando Castile and Michael Brown and Manuel Ellis and Eric Garner and Sandra Bland and George Floyd … would not have died.”
These cries for Black lives, they matter. They’re like Martha. And I totally understand and have deep compassion for and completely agree with them. Black lives, very much, matter.
This doesn’t mean all lives don’t. No one is saying that.
Martha’s not arguing other deaths happening on that day should have meant less to Jesus. No, her cry is one of anger and grief.
She’s marching to the edge of town to say if Jesus would have been there, Lazarus would not have died. That’s all she’s doing. She’s processing her pain.
It’s because of her protest that she’s able to meet Jesus and move forward from pain.
Read their conversation from John 11:22-27:
“‘But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’
“Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’
“Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’
“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’
“She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe.’”
There’s so much gospel bound up in this moment.
Martha’s protest unveils one of the most important, theological declarations in all the Gospels; it’s the same message for which the Black Lives Matter movement is crying.
And it’s what Jesus says to us all, “George Floyd will rise. Breonna Taylor will rise. Those who believe in me, though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
So, I want to say this to everyone filled with the sting of death caused by heartache of racial injustice and those out on the frontlines marching for a better tomorrow.
This is my pastoral response to your pain:
“Be like Martha if you need to. March as many times as you want. We, the church, will be like Jesus and give you space to be angry. We’ll weep with you. We’ll share your concern. We’ll stand with you on the edge of town. We’ll march with you. And in compassion, we’ll love you through this. God doesn’t want you to stay angry. But take all the time you need. Christ will meet you and draw forth, out of death, new life.”
Senior pastor of First Baptist Waynesboro in Waynesboro, Virginia. He is a member of the Good Faith Media advisory council.