The Desires of the Heart
When Lazarus died, Mary of Bethany must have been heartbroken.
You can see why she would have been. She loved her brother Lazarus, and she trusted and loved Jesus. Like everybody else in her community she knew that Jesus could heal sick people. So when her brother got sick and she knew that Jesus was nearby, she turned to him for help. Then she waited three desperate and increasingly miserable days. During those days Jesus didn’t come and Lazarus died.
And so she was devastated. Her beloved brother was dead, and her beloved Jesus seemed to have disregarded her entirely in her time of need. She must have felt sure that she had lost the desires of her heart and lost them irretrievably.
But what the story of the raising of Lazarus shows is that a person can feel sure about such things and still be altogether mistaken.
Mary wasn’t entirely wrong. She had this much accurate insight into herself: she was right in thinking that it was her heart’s desire to have her brother and to be loved by Jesus.
But she was mistaken about what the fulfillment of those desires would be. She thought that she could have the desires of her heart only in case Jesus came to her to heal her brother before he died. Consequently, when Lazarus did die, Mary thought that she had lost what she wanted most.
What the story makes clear, though, is that the Lord can know better than a human person does what she most wants. We are not surprised if the Lord knows better than we do what is good for us, and we generally expect that good to be something we don’t want. But in this story the Lord knows better than Mary what she herself actually wants.
When Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, Mary has her brother and is loved by Jesus in a way more deeply fulfilling to her and more glorious than the mere healing of her brother in his sickness would have been.
And here is the thing to notice: Jesus was in the process of giving her what she wanted most even as she was firmly persuaded that she had lost it forever.
And so the story helps us see that the Lord can be trusted even with the deepest distress of the hearts of those who are his own. As the Psalmist promises (Ps 37:4), the Lord will give the desires of their hearts to those who put their trust in him.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University