“Jesus wept.” – Jn 11:35
Here we have the shortest verse in the entire bible, not to mention the most misunderstood. In the context of John’s Gospel, Lazarus’ heart has stopped beating. Jesus’ amigo is dead. Lazarus’ sisters are weeping. Lazarus’ friends are weeping. After all, when someone dies, people are crushed. And Jesus is too – right? Jesus weeps because he lost his friend, because in his full humanity Jesus shrinks at the sight of death? That’s what most preachers have told me. And all of them are wrong.
Now, of course, Jesus had emotions. Jesus was human. But remember – we can’t take our limited understanding of “humanity” and then project it onto Jesus (see being human: like father, like son). That’s one of the reasons most preachers misunderstand Jesus’ tears. Of course, the other reason is because most preachers forget to do their homework.
You see, twice John tells us that Jesus was “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved” (Jn 11:33, 38). The two Greek words John uses (embrimaomai, tarasso) suggest that Jesus’ tears are ones of admonition and agitation. In other words, they’re not tears of grief. Jesus weeps because he sees that, even in his presence, the people to whom he is sent still have no hope. Jesus weeps because his people are hopeless.
We all know what happens next. Jesus calls Lazarus out of the grave – not because Jesus thinks that death is the end, but “for the sake of the crowd standing [there], so that they may believe that [God sent Jesus]” (Jn 11:42). The truth is, the crowds don’t believe. And because they don’t believe, they have no hope. And because they have no hope, Jesus gets agitated. And his agitation is so great that “Jesus wept.” It’s kind of ironic. The crowds weep because Lazarus is dead. Jesus weeps because the crowds’ hope is dead. And so Jesus brings both Lazarus and the peoples’ hope back to life.
That being said, Jesus does not raise Lazarus from the dead. This may seem tangential – but it’s important. Once again, Lazarus is not raised from the dead. He’s resuscitated. And there’s a big difference. Resurrection is about new life, about a new body, about heaven and earth joining together and about God’s kingdom being all in all. The only person that’s ever been raised to new life is Jesus. You see, Jesus didn’t raise Lazarus to new life. He resuscitated him to an old one – Jesus gave Lazarus back his old body that aches and gets sick and that eventually died again. And so remember – our Christian faith is about resurrection. Take these words to heart. I’d hate for Jesus to get agitated and begin to weep again because we don’t understand.
SPECIAL NOTE: Usually I’m okay when people misunderstand what I write, teach, or preach. It just comes with the gig. But today I feel compelled to clear up two possible misunderstandings of today’s blog entry. First, crying and weeping over the loss of someone that we love is not wrong or sinful. If you’re not deeply cut to the heart when you lose someone that you love, you’re probably in denial. And hyper-confident religiosity is denial’s favorite mask. Second, you should never be agitated or admonish others when they cry over a loved one’s death because you think they lack faith. Whatever Jesus’ “agitation” is – I promise you – it’s not the same as ours.
FOR THE WEEKEND: Read John 11: 17-44. Pay attention to verses 25, 26, 33, 40-42. Also mediate on Lk 22: 39-46. And wrestle with the question, “did Jesus ever experience hopelessness?”