Why Jesus Wept

5th Sunday of Lent—Year A

When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!” When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Sir, come and see.” And Jesus wept.

Why did Jesus weep on his way to Lazarus’ tomb? Was it because he had only just learned of his dear friend Lazarus’ death? No, for Jesus had known long before he reached the village. He had already told his disciples, “Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe.” Did Jesus weep because he had not planned to immediately resurrect Lazarus until sorrow changed his mind? No, for when the news of Lazarus’ sickness first arrived he told his disciples, “This illness is not to end in death,” and two days later he added, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him.” Were Jesus’ tears in fact not shed for Lazarus at all?

Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine if I informed you of two facts (about which, let’s suppose, you would have zero doubts): first, that someone you love had recently died — but also, that twenty minutes from now, this same person would be completely alive and healthy, living among us again. How long and profoundly would you mourn for this person? I do not weep over my friends and family going to sleep at night because I believe they will be fully awake again in the morning. Why would Jesus cry for someone he was about to resurrect? But if Jesus was not grieving over the very-soon-to-be-resurrected Lazarus, then why did Jesus weep?

When Mary ran to Jesus and fell at his feet crying, was there a hurt reproach in her voice when she said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”? (‘We sent you a message days ago that our brother was very ill. Why didn’t you save him?‘) Some of the Jews who came to comfort Martha and Mary seemed to doubt Jesus’ care or power. “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?” When Jesus saw Mary weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled. Jesus beholds grave anguish, doubt, and despair amidst the faith-testing scandal of death. And because of this, Jesus wept.

On Friday, in the midst of our worldwide pandemic, Pope Francis preached a message of hope in a rainy, dark, and empty St. Peter’s Square. He reflected on another gospel story where facing death challenged peoples’ faith in the love and power of the Lord: Jesus is asleep in the boat during a storm on the Sea of Galilee and his disciples wake him up and ask him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?!” In the words of Pope Francis:

It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he [is] in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?

Let us try to understand. In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust? They had not stopped believing in him; in fact, they called on him. But we see how they call on him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. (…)

Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Faith begins when we realize we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we founder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.

One Response to “Why Jesus Wept”

  1. Doug Pruner Says:

    “Why Jesus Wept”
    In a word, empathy.
    Proverbs 8:31

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