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The Table Video

Heartbrokenness and the Problem of Suffering: The Story of Mary of Bethany - Eleonore Stump

Mary of Bethany is an exemplar of a person who suffers heartbreak, if the New Testament story of the raising of Lazarus—in which she and her sister Martha figure largely—is understood in a certain way. This lecture focuses on the problem of suffering in connection with the desires of the heart and heartbrokenness. It shows the way in which, in the narrative, suffering is redeemed in second-personal relationship.


I’m grateful to Evan Rosa and to Laura Pelser for this conference, this invitation. I’m grateful to you for your presence. And I have to tell you, I’m not a preacher. [crowd laughs] So I appreciate all the previous talks and their focus, their angry focus or their passionate focus, on the suffering and the evil in the world. And I share, I share… What do I wanna say? The heartbreak over that suffering.

We’re gonna finish the evening now on a quieter note. I’m gonna talk about a heartbreak in an individual woman’s case, and we’ll see if we can’t think a little bit about another way to think about suffering too. So I wanna talk about the problem of evil and theodicy. Now many people think it’s just obvious that it’s not possible to find an acceptable theodicy. Some people just pick an appalling instance of suffering from the morning news and they ask how anyone could suppose that there’s an acceptable theodicy that justifies God’s allowing suffering of that sort. For the most suffering and heartbreak disproportionately afflict those who are already at the lower end of the social spectrum. Poverty, powerlessness, and shame render people much more vulnerable to heartbreak. If even a little is taken away from him, a person who has very little will lose much more than a person rich in resources and status would lose.

And of course, without the protection offered by wealth, power and status, it’s very easy to lose very much. So in this lecture, I’m gonna look at a story about heartbreak. I’m gonna look at the story of Mary of Bethany in the Gospel of John. In that story, Mary loses decisively what she had her heart set on or so it seems to her for a certain time. She sets her heart on her brother being cured of his illness and there is a cure available for him but he dies anyway. With his death, she loses much more than him. In the middle of her story, it looks to her as if her trust is betrayed by the very person to whom she had managed to give it without reserve.

Suffering of the sorted issue in the story of Mary of Bethany is not the kind of suffering that makes headlines. But it can be just as effective in destroying the meaning of life as the more newsworthy sufferings are. When his wife died, C. S. Lewis was a prosperous professor with a broad network of friends, a successful career, good health, meaningful work. In short, all the things that we think make for a good life.

And this is what he said about himself. He said, “There is spread over everything. “A vague sense of wrongness of something amidst. “Like in those dreams where nothing terrible occurs, “nothing that would sound even remarkable “if you told it at breakfast time. “But the atmosphere, the taste of the whole thing is deadly. “I hear a clock strike and some quality I’d always “had before has gone out of the sound. “What’s wrong with the world to make it so flat, “so shabby, so worn out looking? “And then I remember, “the death of one loved person can be a “meaning destroying event.” And unlike C. S. Lewis, some people never recover from the life shattering grief such a death can leave. And there are many things besides the death of a loved person, ordinary things, not in the same camp with spectacular suffering, just ordinary things that are as effective at devastating the life of a person who suffers them. Betrayal of trust, not morally monstrous but everyday and familiar can be crushing in its effects in this way. People can take a very long time to recover from a divorce. And some people never heal.

The broken heartedness of that very ordinary kind of suffering can leave a person in a state of apathetic unhappiness. In that kind of state C.S. Lewis said of himself, I loathe the slightest effort, not only writing a letter, even reading a letter is too much, even shaving. What does it matter whether my cheek is rough or smooth? It’s easy to see why the lonely become untidy and finely dirty and disgusting. And similar things can be said about shame. Some people are shamed in spectacular ways as Eichmann was in Jerusalem. But there is also shame that is for those not suffering at unremarkable and common place and it can be life destroying too.

A middle-aged, unaccomplished doubty looking wife was shocked to discover that her husband was leaving her for a younger, prettier, more successful woman. And she said of herself, “I’m a worn out show. “What is there about me that anybody else could want?” Shame of that very ordinary sort can rob life of its meaning too for the person who suffers it. If there’s a sociology of suffering, I don’t know it.

But it’s hard not to suppose that the great mass of suffering in the world is of an ordinary sort. Caused not by stunning evil but by the ordinary heartbreak and shame that comes to ordinary people. In this lecture, I wanna look closely at a story in which a woman without power or wealth, afflicted in consequence of every day, ordinary events, is brokenhearted in her suffering. And that’s the story of Mary of Bethany which is poignant in challenging for theodicy. Now I should say, that I was under the impression that I had the usual amount of time for a talk that philosophers get. which means, bad news for you at the end of the day. [crowd laughs] I’m thinking that in this particular crowd, I could save some time by not reading you the story of Mary of Bethany and the raising of Lazarus. So why don’t I just trust you to remember this story and I’ll skip that part and we’ll go a little faster. [crowd laughs]

So you can just remember it in your mind and suppose that I’ve just read it to you. [crowd laughs] In order to understand this story properly it’s important to think about it in two ways. First, from the point of view of Jesus. And then secondly from the point of view of those sisters, Martha and Mary. The women send Jesus a message that Lazarus is sick and in response to their message, he says, “This sickness is not unto death, “but for the glory of God, “that the Son of God might be glorified through it.”

So his reaction to learning that his beloved friend, Lazarus, is sick, his reaction is unlike the reaction of Lazarus’ sisters. He has no anxiety, he has no concern. This sickness, he says, will eventuate in glory. The glory of God is what he mentions first. In light of the end of the story, that Lazarus gets raised from the dead, it isn’t hard to understand what he’s saying. Raising somebody from the dead requires a miracle. And miracles demonstrate the power of God over nature. Consequently, raising somebody from the dead really does show the glory of God. In addition, however, since Jesus is the person doing the miracle, it’s obviously going to redound to his glory too, as well as to the glory of God, the Father.

But you shouldn’t miss the fact that what redounds to God’s glory affects Martha, and Mary and Lazarus too. They’re the obvious primary beneficiaries of that miracle and so they’re also the most obvious beneficiaries of increase in the glory of God work by the miracle. Since the miracle which contributes to the glory of God involves them, what contributes to the glory of God in this case, contributes to their glory too. Think about it this way, many people in the Gospel narratives ask Jesus for help with sickness or physical disability. But ignoring their requests for help to do a miracle later, which will further the glory of God, that is not his usual response. The people who asked Jesus for help trust him to help them but they don’t seem to have the sort of relationship with Jesus which will enable their trust in him to persist in the face of no response at all on his part.

That Jesus picks Martha, Mary, and Lazarus as the ones whose request for help he won’t answer immediately, at least not in the way they expect. That’s a sign of his trust in them. It suggests that Mary, Martha, and Lazarus have the kind of spiritual condition needed to maintain their trust in him, even in the face of a disappointment as severe as his not coming to heal Lazarus. So in continuing in their trust in him, around the hardship of deferred help, they gain in the glory of spiritual excellence too.

So on this way of thinking about that story, from Jesus’ point of view, the miracle of the raising of Lazarus is designed to give Mary, Martha, and Lazarus a great gift. Not only Lazarus alive, but also spiritual excellence and renown. So when Jesus plans to raise Lazarus from the dead, he’s planning to grant those women what they wanted and to give them more than they asked. When we look at the miracle Jesus intends to do from his point of view then, we can see it as a good and loving plan which benefits Lazarus and his sisters in a special way. But we need to consider this story also from the point of view of the sisters. And from their point of view, it is bound to look very different.

The first sign of trouble in this story is actually in the very message that Martha and Mary send Jesus. That message isn’t coy exactly, but it certainly isn’t straightforward either. A straightforward message would have gone something like this, Lord, would you please come and help us because Lazarus is sick and we wish you would come and heal him. What the sister’s messages actually says is, Lord, look, the one you love is sick. That’s the whole message.

The nature of that message suggests that apart from their anxiety about Lazarus, part of what the sisters want, on this occasion, has to do with their own relationship to Jesus. The messages suggests they assume they are, in some sense, special to Jesus and that they know he loves them as well as Lazarus. And yet on the other hand, it also suggests that maybe they aren’t as sure as they would like to be that Jesus loves them in the way they want him to do. Any attempt to put into simple and direct words the sort of complicated emotion behind their message will come out looking silly or contrived. But that the message is not straightforward is clear and the womanly anxiety behind it is highlighted by the addition of the phrase, the one whom you love. They could just have said Lazarus.

Why do they feel they need to tell Jesus that he loves Lazarus? Can’t he be trusted to remember that by himself? So the message sets the stage for trouble. It suggests that the women have two powerful desires. One having to do with Lazarus’s health and the other one having to do with Jesus’ reaction to them. After the sisters’ message is delivered, Jesus waits for three days and then he prepares to go to their house in Bethany. We must not let the fact that we know the end of the story make us blind to what the women have been suffering in that time since they sent their message. When they sent the message, they had a great hope that Jesus could and would help them in their time of extreme need.

The slow unraveling of a great hope rooted in love for another person is extremely painful. The sisters began with a great hope that Jesus, who loves Lazarus and loves them, will come to them in their hour of need. By the time he does finally head toward Bethany, the women will have had plenty of time first for dismay, disappointment and anxiety. And then for pain and perplexity. And finally for the sodden misery that comes when the extinction of hope can no longer be denied. Furthermore, their misery will have a special anguish to it because the person who extinguishes their great hope is the one they loved and trusted as God’s own representative. So as we watch this story unfold, we need to be sensitive to what the women are suffering.

As soon as Martha hears that Jesus and his disciples are coming to Bethany, she runs out of the house to meet him. And her greeting as she meets him on the road is this, she says, “Lord, if you had been here, “my brother would not have died.” Martha is conveying to Jesus her great distress, letting him know quickly how deeply he has disappointed her. In the gospel stories, Martha’s portrayed as the practical, uncomplicated sister. In this story, although she feels Jesus has let her down terribly, she’s still talking to him. And since she lets him know how she feels, he has a reasonably straightforward way in which to deal with her. Mary on the other hand is staying home.

When Martha knew Jesus was finally coming, she ran to him. When Mary knew Jesus was finally coming, she stayed right where she was. Withdrawal is also an effective way of letting someone you love know how much he has hurt you. And maybe for some temperaments, withdrawing into oneself is as natural a method of expressing pain as Martha’s running out to tell Jesus directly is for her. Practical Martha not only chooses to express her sense of pain directly to Jesus but she also offers him a way out. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died, “but I know that even now, whatever you ask of God, ” God will give you.”

So Martha’s attitude seems to be something like this. Look, you didn’t come when we needed you, where were you? Well, obviously we don’t have as important a role in your busy life as you have in ours and so you let us down. Well, nevermind you’re busy, but now you’re here and surely now you could get around to doing something for us and that would be better than nothing. Even now whatever you ask of God, God will give you. So Martha’s willing to swallow her hurt and disappointment at what she takes to be Jesus’ indifference to her as long as some practical good can come out of it for all of them. Mary is staying in the house because she minds so intensely about what she sees as his treatment of her that she doesn’t care what he does now. In another Gospel story, Martha is the one who cares if they all get lunch on time. Mary doesn’t care if they ever eat as long as she can keep listening to Jesus.

But if Jesus accepts Martha’s suggestion or even seems to do so, Jesus will have lost something he does care about and something he should care about. If he simply exceeds and does whatever Martha’s hinting at here, she will have what she wants together with the belief that she, a simple woman doesn’t rank very high in Jesus’ list of priorities. That he can’t be bothered to take any deep or abiding interest in an ordinary unimportant woman of Bethany certainly not while the important rulers of Israel are next door in Jerusalem.

So to take Martha’s suggestion would be to let Martha believe that Jesus had in fact betrayed her trust but that his doing so really didn’t matter very much in the great scheme of things. Martha however is at least talking to Jesus and so he responds by talking to her to try to help her see things a different way. “Martha,” he says to her, “your brother will rise again.” Now nothing in the content of that line directly confronts her personal distress, and the trouble between the two of them isn’t even brought out into the open. And Jesus is still not tipping his hand. His plan to raise Lazarus in a notable public miracle is something he’s still keeping secret from Martha.

All he tells her is that her brother will rise again and she takes that line just as an attempt at theological edification. Boring theological edification. Her response to him is meant to let him know that she knows that already. Of course she knows that already, though in fact, she’s fishing because she isn’t sure that she really does know what he means and so she spells it out to see what he’ll say. “I know that my brother will rise again in the resurrection “at the last day.” So in response to Jesus saying that Lazarus will rise again, Martha brushes his line aside. Though she isn’t completely sure, she has understood him.

If he means what she thinks he means by saying that Lazarus will rise again, then his line isn’t even relevant to her trouble. And it’s certainly an uninteresting reply to her hint that even now he could get around to doing something. So her answer, I know that already, it shows a disinclination to let the conversation wander away from her opening rebuke to Jesus. And that response must then be worrying to Jesus. He responds with a speech evincing more passion than he’s shown so far in this story. He says to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. “He that believes in me though he were dead yet “shall he live and whoever lives and believes in me “shall never die. “Do you believe this?” And Martha reacts more to his tone than to his words.

In this context, his words are really perplexing. Whoever lives and believes in Jesus shall never die except of course that Lazarus believed in him and did die, and that state of affairs is the very sort of the source of the current problem for Martha. But Martha seems impressed with the evident passion of the speech. It tells her something relevant to her concerns which are not abstract and theological, but intensely personal. It shows her she’s making an impact on him.

The fervor of his words shows her that her reaction matters to him. So answering his tone more than his words, Martha responds to him by letting him know that her attachment to him is as strong as it ever was. “I do believe in you,” she says. “I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, “the one we were waiting for.”

On the strength of that much reconciliation, unexamined and ununderstood, Martha has a heart for her sister. The story says that Martha called Mary secretly and told Mary that Jesus was calling for her to come to him. And I think, I think Martha fibbed. I think Martha loved her sister and understood her and wanted to help her towards the comfort of a reconciliation with Jesus. So I think Martha told Mary that Jesus was calling for her when in fact nothing of the sort had happened. But Martha’s line has the sort of effect she hoped it would. It breaks the ice for Mary. It breaks the ice in Mary. Mary gets up quickly to go to Jesus with a sort of face that makes the people around her think she’s going to the grave to weep.

And when she gets to Jesus, she collapses in a heap at his feet demonstrating to him expressively how bad things are for her, and also avoiding looking at him. So as not to abandon withdrawal altogether. Her first line to Jesus is the same as Martha’s, but it doesn’t have Martha’s practical addition which offered Jesus an apparently sensible way out of the trouble. “Lord,” she says to him, “Lord, if you had been here, “my brother would not have died. And that’s all she says and she weeps. Martha inspires Jesus to a passionate speech but Martha’s sensible and practical and her distress is within bounds. Mary’s heartbroken.

Seeing her brokenhearted at his feet, Jesus groans in spirit and is troubled. Okay, so what sort of state is that? What kind of state is groaning and being troubled? He comes to Bethany surrounded by his expectant and devoted disciples, planning to do a glorious miracle. Facing him is first Martha, distressed and hurt and then Mary collapsed at his feet weeping, surrounded by weeping companions. He now has to deal with the fact that while he was waiting to put his plan for glory into effect, the women were suffering and wondering why he wouldn’t come.

It looks to Martha and Mary as it must look to the Jews around them, as if Jesus had in fact betrayed their trust. With Mary heartbroken and weeping at his feet, it must also occur to the disciples of Jesus to wonder whether that original plan was a good one. And maybe it even crosses the human mind of Jesus to wonder the same thing. Maybe that’s why the story says he was troubled. In his dismay, what he decides to do is continue with the original plan. So he makes no answer to Mary’s weeping. He turns to the bystanders and he says to them, “Where have you laid him?” And they respond trustingly and respectfully, “Lord,” they say, “Come and see.” And then Jesus weeps. Why does he weep? Mary’s comforters think he’s weeping because he loved Lazarus so much and Lazarus is dead. But that seems the one explanation that we can rule out for sure. Nobody knows better than Jesus that death is not going to hold Lazarus. He can hardly be weeping for his dead friend, he’s gonna get him back.

Why is he weeping then? Maybe because in his momentarily troubled state, he’s also momentarily discouraged by the reaction of the women. I don’t mean he’s feeling self-pity. I mean he’s feeling the kind of discouragement that rescue workers feel when they can hear the distress of the earthquake victims and they can’t get ’em out. A person in circumstances like that might well weep without any suggestion of self-indulgence. So groaning again, he comes to the tomb to carry out his original plan.

And Martha who’d been hinting at some sort of divine action has a failure of nerve when they get to the tomb. “I don’t know, she says, in response to Jesus’ command to take away the stone. “I don’t know, do you realize he’s been dead for four days? “By now he stinks.” This is not like opening the eyes of the blind, Martha’s thinking, that body’s started to decompose. By now it would take a big miracle to restore Lazarus. And while Martha believes that God will give Jesus anything he asks, that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, the one they’ve been waiting for, she’s still anxious about whether he can do anything for a body that’s been dead so long.

And Jesus seems almost comforted by that fussy doubleminded anxiety on Martha’s part. He hasn’t yet said a word to Mary, but Martha prompts an answer from him. “Didn’t I tell you?” he says to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you would believe “you would see the glory of God?” After that didn’t I tell you speech and a prayer designed to instruct the surrounding crowd, Jesus raises Lazarus. And at that point the narrative shifts its focus. It describes the actions of the bystanders. Many of them believed but some went to conspire against him, to plan his death.

The story tells us nothing further about Jesus’ interactions with Mary and Martha on that occasion. And it’s not an unreasonable speculation to suppose the story doesn’t say anything more ’cause there’s nothing more to be said. The narrative leads us to imagine that there’s overwhelming excitement on everybody’s part, and especially on the part of the sisters to have Lazarus restored. And so the story slips Jesus away from the action, removing him from center stage and turning that position over to Lazarus who’s got a right to it in these circumstances. But if the story ended there, it would be frustratingly incomplete. Was Jesus right in making the plan he did? Were the women right to be so hurt and distressed? Once they have Lazarus restored to them and reflect on Jesus’ actions, how will they feel about his failure to come to them when they called for help? When they’re reconciled to him, what form will that reconciliation take?

The natural end of this story is not here at the raising of Lazarus but actually in the next chapter. In that next chapter of the story, the immediate excitement generated by the miracle has started to subside and there’s a dinner party. Lazarus is one of the people who sat at table with Jesus, Martha has the place we might expect, she’s helping to serve the dinner. And what about Mary? What about Mary? She has brought a large quantity of an ointment so expensive that Judas thinks it’s a sinful luxury. With that sinful luxury of perfumed ointment, Mary anoints Jesus’ feet. And then as if that act of tenderness were insufficient to express what she feels, she wipes his anointed feet clean on her long hair.

Her action is one of self-abnegation and adoration of him. Why does she do this? Mary had thought that Jesus had betrayed her trust and that to that extent he didn’t love her. But with the raising of Lazarus, she must come to understand something of his original plan. And to understand that original plan is to understand that it was motivated by deep love, that it had among its purposes not just giving her what she wanted, but also making her glorious.

And so now she must understand that she was wrong in supposing that he didn’t love her. The recognition that he does after all love her might move her to some act of devotion, but why this sense of self-abnegation? Wiping his feet with her hair. Of the sisters, it was Mary who wouldn’t come to him until Martha called her. Mary, who is so filled with the sense that he betrayed her trust that she just fell at his feet weeping.

But when we see the whole story, it’s clear that Jesus’ actions toward the women don’t constitute a betrayal of trust, however much they looked that way to Mary. Mary trusted him to love her. And in the circumstances she thought she knew what he had to do if he loved her. Her brother was sick and dying, Jesus was not far away. It would cost him very little to get to her and if he got to her, he could heal her brother.

So in these circumstances, she thought that what she wanted more than anything else in the world was that her brother not die. And if Jesus loved her, she thought he couldn’t do anything but come in response to her cry for help but he didn’t come. And so she thought he didn’t love her. And so when Lazarus died, Mary must have felt that she had lost the desires of her heart, both her brother and the love of Jesus.

Now, it is very easy to see why it seems this way to Mary. We can have every sympathy with her and yet the narrative makes it clear that she was wrong. It turns out that there are other things Mary feels, Mary feels are more worth having than the healing of Lazarus although she didn’t know that about herself at the time when he was sick. This glorious restoring of Lazarus in an act of love on Jesus’ part is more worth having in her own highs, in her own heart, more worth having than the healing she had thought she wanted more than anything else. It gives her the brother she loves in a more excellent way than she might have supposed possible. And in the process it fills her with a sense of the love of Jesus for her.

When she sees this side of the story, what else will she see? She will see that Jesus formed this plan for her, not only because she was so dear to him but also because he supposed he could rely on her trust in him. Crucial to that original plan of his was his trust in her. Trust to be among his advanced disciples you might say, to believe in him long enough to sustain her in the terrible days when he didn’t come and Lazarus lay dead. But here clearly, he was mistaken about her. Her commitment to him wasn’t strong enough to carry her through the disappointment when he didn’t come. When we look at the story only from Mary’s point of view, we might be inclined to wonder whether Jesus didn’t in fact betray her trust. But when we look at the whole story, as Mary will have done after the raising of Lazarus, then there’s another way to see it.

Seen in its entirety, the story shows that contrary to what Mary had believed, Jesus loved Mary as much as she wanted and more than she knew. She trusted him to love her and he did not betray that trust but there was a betrayal of trust in this story, and it was on her part. Jesus trusted her to believe in his love and goodness even in the face of Lazarus’s death and she didn’t. Seen in this way, the story shows her not as betrayed but as a suffering and unknowing betrayer of him. If Mary came to see this story in this way, then it’s easier to understand why she anoints his feet and wipes them with her hair. His love for her is deeper than she knew. She isn’t sensible as her sister Martha is and so her loves aren’t sensible either.

When he didn’t come, she thought he’d abandoned her and she gave up on him. And so she was heartbroken. And he raised Lazarus after that. We can see the last part of the great artistry of this story by recognizing that in that very act of self-abnegation in anointing his feet and wiping them with her hair, Mary does fulfill Jesus’ plan for her to make her glorious. She just fulfills it in a different way than she would have done if she’d maintained her trust in him. That moving image of her anointing Jesus and her attitude of love towards him become woven into the very gospel itself as Jesus in the narrative says it will be. Martha who’s sensible didn’t separate herself so thoroughly from Jesus during the crisis, and therefore her turning back is sensible too. Mary withdrew from him heartbroken and her turning back is equally passionate. Unsensible, unrestrained, unstinting. Even images of that fervent disciple, Peter, at his most generous are no match for this picture of Mary with her hair down, heedless, anointing his feet in an outpouring of love.

And so even around her failure of Jesus, Jesus’ plan for her is fulfilled. She is glorious, she really is. So here’s the conclusion. When Lazarus died, Mary must have felt sure that she had lost the desires of her heart and lost them irretrievably. And you can see why she’d think so. But what this story shows is that a person can feel sure about such things and still be altogether mistaken. Mary wasn’t wrong about everything. She wanted to have her brother and she wanted to be loved by Jesus, and she was right. Those things were her heart’s desires. But she was mistaken about what the fulfillment of her heart’s desires would look like. She thought she could have the desires of her heart only in case her brother didn’t die because Jesus healed him.

And so when Lazarus did die, she thought she had lost everything she wanted most. But what this story makes clear is that God can know better than a human person does what she most wants. Not what she ought to want and doesn’t, not some abstract theological good that doesn’t matter to her, but what in fact she really does want. When Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, Mary has her brother and is loved by Jesus in a way more deeply fulfilling to her than the healing of her brother would have been. And so here’s what this story shows.

Jesus was in the process of giving Mary what she wanted most even while she was heartbroken because she was firmly convinced that she had lost him. The contrast between the way things look to Mary while she’s suffering and the way things look to her when she understands, that should stimulate in us some quiet, some diffidence about the human ability to understand God’s reasons for allowing suffering. And here I have to say I have a lot more to say. Unfortunately, 660 pages worth more to say. [laughs] So, out of care for you, I’m going to quit here but I just want to point out one last thing.

Some of the most important human goods are a matter of personal relationships. In fact, I would say all the most important goods are. As the story of Mary of Bethany makes clear, the value we place on such relationships accounts for a lot of our suffering. Mary suffers as she does, not only because it’s her brother who’s dying but also because she takes Jesus himself to be directly responsible for her suffering. Her relation to Jesus is a crucial part of that story of her suffering. But then what redeems her suffering for her in this story is also a matter of relationship. Jesus permitted that suffering out of love for her.

That’s why she had it, because of his love for her. And in permitting that suffering, he’s drawing her closer to himself and also making her glorious in the process. There are a lot of great people in the world, they win Nobel prizes, they have tons of honors, they publish lots of books and their names are not in the Gospels but hers is, hers is. So the strengthening and deepening of her loving relationship to Jesus is the very thing that transforms her suffering from the unjustified pain she thought it was, to the transfiguring experience it becomes when she anoints his feet. And so those are things to think about when we think about the shocking, horrifying, heartbreaking, suffering of our world. Those are things to think about. That in the end, part of what we need to understand is what suffering, what role suffering plays in drawing us closer, in personal relationship with one another, in personal relationship also with Jesus.

And so it shows us, this story shows us, an added dimension for theodicy. A more complicated and a richer sort of good that might justify God in permitting suffering. But with that, I’m going to quit. It’s enough for me now to have highlighted through this story the way in which suffering can operate for good in the lives even of ordinary people. And with that I’m done, thank you. [crowd applauds]