John 11: 1 – 45
Today’s is another long reading, which contains the shortest of all Bible verses ‘Jesus wept’.
Here is Jesus, the epitome of humanity, yet, simultaneously both fully human and fully divine. This is a Jesus who, like us, weeps over the death of his friend, who is moved to tears by Martha’s and Mary’s grief.
Because of those two simple words, ‘Jesus wept’, Jesus seems more than ever like us.
Of course, we know that Jesus needed to eat, sleep and drink, like us, and I imagine him smiling, laughing out loud even at times – though we aren’t told about any such hysterics. But somehow this weeping Jesus resonates with us and because of it we get a glimpse of the ways in which, through Jesus, God is able to identify with very human condition.
To love someone is to be able to be moved by their predicament, to laugh with them and to cry with them. Jesus loved Lazarus, his friend; and he loved Mary and Martha. And Jesus showed the depth of his love as he shared in their sorrow and pain.
John wrote in detail and at length, more so than the other Gospel writers. It’s said that John’s Gospel is shallow enough for a toddler to paddle in, because of some easy, pithy, short snippets that stick in the memory (‘Jesus wept’ being one of them) but also deep enough for an elephant to drown in!
I wonder if John’s written emphasis on uncomfortable human realities, the tears, the misunderstood words and actions, and the stench of decayed flesh, is deliberate. You see, it shows that God, through Jesus, didn’t stride in to Bethany, waving a magic wand to create a rosy, romanticised and unreal replacement for human life. God entered fully into human life and death to renew and refresh it from within – sore, raw and messy as it was. Martha, Mary and Jesus all had to dry their eyes.
Jesus had taken his time arriving on the scene, he had stayed put, ‘in the place where he was’, so Lazarus was dead. He wasn’t sleeping, or in a coma: he was four days dead and had been entombed. ‘If only you’d been here my brother wouldn’t have died!’ both Martha and Mary declare. They had faith enough that Jesus could heal Lazarus, but now it was too late.
Human and natural as Jesus’ tears were, it wasn’t just a compassionate human Jesus who walked into Bethany, gently rousing a beloved friend from a coma, this was a divine Jesus, now able to demonstrate God’s power and glory, through watery eyes, blurred by grief; a foretaste of the suffering and indignity that what was to come. This story prefigures Jesus’ mental turmoil in the Garden of Gethsemane, the mockery, indignity and injustice of his trial and the agony of his death on the cross.
Whilst Jesus was a human being, like you and I, he also had the power and wisdom of God – and God’s timing, which is not always ours! Perhaps more than in any other moment, this moment in time demonstrates God made flesh, God in human form, so like and yet unlike us! In this story, through their watery eyes Martha, Mary, Lazarus and all those gathered to mourn saw the unique contrast of humanity and divinity and the collaboration between the two with absolute clearly.
And so can we. From within the mess and murk and rawness of life, God enters our own world – and can transform it from the inside out as we weep with the world and bless it as we work within it.