Jesus Wept (John 11:35)


Sometimes we know too much.

I know, for instance, that John 11:35, “Jesus wept”, is the shortest verse in the Bible, Everyone knows that, it’s a trivia quiz answer.

Except that it isn’t.

Well, okay, it is in the King James translation. But not in the NIV, or in the original Greek, and besides, the chapter and verse numbers came a long time after John and Paul and the others were writing.

“Jesus wept.”

Its shortness is its power, a blunt statement of fact that nevertheless affects the gravity of everything around it by its sheer mass and weight. It’s anything but trivial.

Jesus arrives at the village of Bethany too late, apparently, to heal his friend Lazarus. He has to face death threats and recrimination and anger and frustration from those around him, all while his friend lies in his tomb, wrapped in grave clothes.

And there are conversations about God and theology and hope, and yes, they’re important, but when Jesus looks at that grave, all that stops. It stops and Jesus breaks down and weeps.

We know too much, of course. We know why Lazarus is famous, we know what Jesus is planning to do, we know this story’s happy ending. And yet maybe we don’t know as much as we think we do, because somehow this whole narrative revolves around Jesus’s tears. We know Lazarus is coming back, so why all the weeping? Why exactly is Jesus crying?

Grief? Empathy? Anger at death’s presence in creation? Frustration that of all the deaths in the communities in which he lived, only a few were reversed in this way? Did the words of Lazarus’s sisters cut him like a knife? Even though he knew that a resurrection was at hand, did he still mourn for Lazarus’s suffering, for three lost days?

“Jesus wept.”

That’s the problem, right there. My theorising. Because sometimes, more often than we’d like, Christians need to follow Jesus’s lead, need to shut up and weep.

We find it inadequate. We’re God’s ambassadors, after all, and so we feel that we need to provide answers. We tweet Bible verses out of context and quote textbooks because if we can’t answer the near immortal question of suffering right that moment, then God is somehow threatened and dishonoured.

But the presence of theology isn’t necessarily the presence of God. Sometimes we’re too busy talking and knowing too much when God wants us to weep. Weeping is openness, vulnerability, solidarity, incarnational. Our hearts break and when they do we need to grieve, grieve and know that God grieves with us. Words and homilies come tumbling down with the world around them and all that’s left are tears, for minutes or hours or days.

“Jesus wept.”

Lord, help us to silence our answers and insecurities and weep with those who need it, and let our hearts break along with yours.



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