April 2, 2017 – What makes Jesus weep?

Lent 5   April 2, 2017   Psalm 130, John 11:1-46  What makes Jesus weep?

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It’s as if Jesus is doing dress rehearsal here, as he journeys back to metro Jerusalem, where religious authorities have just been trying to kill him. Now here he is, in the Jerusalem suburb of Bethany… a few days late for a close friend’s funeral…

He shows up late on purpose, we’re told, so God’s glory can be seen at work in him… (and…)

Here we have the last and greatest of the seven sign-actions Jesus does, narrated  in John’s gospel. (We’ve seen him turning water into wine, healing the sick, making the lame to walk, feeding thousands from a few loaves and fishes, walking on water, giving eyesight to the blind. We’ve also been told – Jesus did many other signs not recorded in this gospel…) And all the signs together, all build to this one last, greatest sign… of raising Lazarus from the dead.

Yet even reminded of someone risen from the dead today… What’s been standing out most for me in the word of God this week has been hearing that Jesus weeps

Jesus weeps with his close friends Mary and Martha of Bethany and their friends, as they weep for the death of their brother Lazarus. And here in one of the bible’s shortest verses – (in most translations its just two words –) Jesus wept – here we have one of the deepest of all the bible’s deep mysteries.

Jesus knows of course that he will raise Lazarus from the dead. “This illness does not lead to death,” he’s just told his disciples. Showing up late when he hears Lazarus is ill is part of the plan, Jesus says, so God’s glory may be seen.

So then – if Jesus knows, all along, he’s going to bring his friend Lazarus back to life –  why then, is he weeping?

Bible scholars and interpreters through the ages have been pondering, puzzling, and arguing about this. (And there may be more than one true answer.. And we should notice… )

On one hand, the death and resurrection of Lazarus closely resembles a dress rehearsal for Jesus’ own death and resurrection soon to come. (In both the raising of Lazarus and in Jesus’ own death we hear women weeping for a loved one gone too soon. In both cases the body is sealed-tight in a tomb. In each case the stone will be rolled away – revealing life – not death. Even the descriptions of burial clothes in each case are very similar.) And with this raising of Lazarus, so much like a dress rehearsal for his own resurrection – perhaps, in some sense, also, rehearsal for the resurrection of all the dead to come… Perhaps Jesus is weeping now as he feels the intensity of this enormous drama… he’s the Center of.

And at the same time… though this is like a dress rehearsal for his coming death and resurrection – this is not at all a rehearsal for Mary and Martha… And…

Jesus weeping with people he loves is not so mysterious… on the most basic human level. Jesus weeps because he is compassionate. The most compassionate person who ever walked the earth. He weeps (of course) with those he loves.

And, most likely, Jesus also weeps for the same reasons that he weeps in St Luke’s telling of his entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (Luke 19) – where, we’re told, Jesus weeps because of our age-old human habit of not recognizing the things that make for peace.

Jesus weeps, fundamentally, because he sees more clearly than anyone – how tragically lost, how deeply sorrowfully sad this world is. Jesus knows the dark influence sin and death still hold over most of human life – obscuring our view of Christ, the light of the world… (And…)

Jesus weeps because he knows – even those who love God most… still suffer from the sin of the world… “All the way to heaven is heaven,” as one of the saints of old has said, because Jesus said “I am the way and the truth and the life.” All the way to heaven is heaven… But all the way to heaven is also still infested with thorn-like temptations, troubles, and testing…

And the mystery, perhaps, is not so much in why Jesus weeps – as in why we don’t weep more with him. As Pope Francis has said, “Jesus is weeping today, too, because we have preferred the path of war, the path of hatred, the path of enmity…”

And as Catholic News Service has reported (quote):  Pope Francis encourages people to pray for “the grace of tears” when pleading to God to help others, (–) when recognizing their own sinfulness, (–) when contemplating the greatness of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross (–) and when experiencing God’s mercy. Sometimes, he has said, tears are the only true response to the question of why the innocent suffer.

In January 2015, the pope listened to a 14-year-old boy in Manila describe life on the streets as a struggle to find food, to fight the temptation of sniffing glue, and to avoid adults looking for the young to exploit and abuse. A 12-year-old girl, (also) rescued from the streets (of Manila)… covered her face with her hand as she wept in front of the pope. But she managed to ask him, “Why did God let this happen to us?” 

Pope Francis said a real answer was impossible, but the question itself was important and the tears that accompanied the question were even more eloquent than the words. “Certain realities of life,” he said, “are seen only with eyes that are cleansed by tears.” For people who are safe, comfortable and loved, he said, learning how to weep for others is part of following Jesus, who wept at the death of Lazarus and was moved with compassion at the suffering of countless others….

(And…) Jesus is still weeping today… Because still today many Mary’s and Martha’s all over the world are still weeping… for many, many lost brothers,  sisters, children, and neighbors… Every day, so many lost, hurt, bruised, broken in the midst of all this world’s tragedies, great and small…  (and…)

Jesus is still weeping today, also, because most of the world still lacks knowledge of what makes for peace. The world is still stuck in patterns of sin and death – not knowing, or ignoring or failing to understand… The Way of Jesus… The way of peace.

And Jesus is weeping, here in John’s gospel, probably not so much because he knows giving life to the dead will cause his own death – (He does know this, but he also knows his own death will not be fatal…)

But Jesus weeps many tears, because he knows…we humans will continue to make the very same kinds of twisted calculations the religious and political authorities of his day made… Jesus knows (all-too-well)…how… many will continue to treat other humans made-in-the-image-and-likeness-of-God as less-than-human – as somehow expendable – and continue to deliver other people made-in-the-image-of-God over to death… (even)… in the name of God…

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Weeping with Jesus – weeping with the broken-hearted – weeping for this world’s deep broken-ness… may be the spiritual practice we need most in these dark times… The spiritual practice that draws us closest to Jesus…

But for most of us, weeping isn’t something we can do at will… Even when I know I’m sad, I never know when tears may come… Sometimes I find tears flowing… reading the bible or devotional writings… Other times, reading the newspaper or hearing news on the radio brings on tears…

I’ve learned to pray and read the bible and worship on a regular basis… But..  Crying isn’t something I can do programatically… according to any kind of schedule…

So (not really knowing what else to do…) I’ve begun asking God– ‘Lord, let your Spirit pray through me… Let your Spirit weep through me… Let me weep for what makes you weep… Let your tears be my tears too…

We’re near the end of this Lenten season. Next week is already Palm Sunday, then Holy Thursday and Good Friday… And I’m praying and hoping we will all make time to be apart from distractions… Take time… set aside time… to draw closer to Jesus…

Making time for the mystery of his passion…Time to consider His love for us and for all… Time to pray and reflect on the mystery of Christ’s life among us… and his sacrificial death on our behalf…

Because its really only as we enter into the mystery of the tears and sorrows of Jesus…

That we come to really understand the joy of his resurrection life.

And the more we take time with Jesus, the more we know…

Weeping will not be the last word…

And my prayer is that we will all continue… to be together with Jesus, by his grace… And the joyful promise of his resurrection…will lead us all… into…

all the fullness of his blessed life without end…

For we pray in the name of Jesus Christ… Lord of Life.

Amen.