Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Reflections from the book of John #10: Jesus wept.

Sunday School teacher:  What's the shortest verse in the Bible?
Sunday School attendee:  "Jesus wept."

And that's how I learned this verse.
Honestly, that's all there was to it.

Okay, maybe the teacher provided some context, but I don't think so.  It was all about trivia, and for years I totally missed the profundity of those two words.

Jesus spent his days surrounded by people.  They followed him everywhere.  Some of them hoped for a miracle.  Some of them liked to see sparks fly when he crossed paths with the Pharisees.  Whether he giving sight to blind men, telling lame men to walk, handing out bread, or telling church leaders that their father is the devil, they were sure to see something entertaining.

Some of these people "believed" but kept their belief quiet.  Others followed him openly and risked offending Jewish leaders.  Of these, he chose twelve disciples.  A few more became close friends.

Two sisters and a brother, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus fell into that category.  He used their home as a resting place when he passed through Bethany.  He ate their and sometimes he taught there.

And so when Lazarus got super sick, Martha sent a messenger to get Jesus.  After all, Jesus healed people all the time.  Why wouldn't he make a special trip to heal a close friend?

But instead of heading to Bethany, about a two-day trip, Jesus dismisses the messenger, saying, "Not to worry.  Lazarus isn't going to die.  This sickness is about giving glory to God."  And so, even though he really loves Lazarus, he decides to wait two days before heading to Bethany.

As usual, Jesus speaks in riddles and metaphors.  He says, "Okay, we're heading back.  Lazarus is asleep, and I'm going to go wake him up."

And his disciples, who are more than a little worried that someone will try to kill Jesus when he gets to Bethany, ask, "Why do you need to wake him up if he's sleeping?  Won't he wake up on his own?"

And Jesus responds, "When I say sleeping, I mean dead.  And because I love you, I'm glad he's dead because now you're going to really believe."

Sure enough, when they get there, Lazarus has been dead for four days.  Mary and Martha are beside themselves.  Mary's too upset to leave the house, but Martha goes to meet Jesus as he approaches the house, and she tells him, "If you had been here, Jesus, Lazarus would be fine.  This wouldn't have happened."

I think we can interpret this phrase, "Why didn't you come?  You've healed all kinds of people, people who don't even believe in you, people who don't even know who you are, and yet you didn't heal Lazarus.  You spoke three words, and the Roman centurion's servant got healed.  You didn't even have to go to his house.  You could have done that for us.  We're your friends!  Why didn't you do something?"

And I think we feel like this sometimes when Jesus doesn't come through for us.

But Jesus doesn't rebuke her.  He listens.  And then she says, maybe because she remembers that Jesus has raised the dead before, "Even now, Jesus, you can do anything.  God will give you whatever you ask for."

She hopes, but she's afraid to ask, that maybe something else can be done.  But Lazarus is dead, and she saw him die, and it's just too impossible to expect that Jesus will intervene.

Martha's grief is overwhelming.  She's talking so fast she can't even think straight, and Jesus gently says, "Your brother will live again."

And she says, "Yeah, I know.  In the last days, we'll all live again after the resurrection.  But it's so hard . . ."

And Jesus boldly declares, "I am the resurrection and the life.  Anyone who believes in me will live again, even after he dies. Everyone who lives in me will never ever die.  Do you believe this, Martha?"

I've heard these words so many times that I automatically think about Jesus own resurrection.  But basically, Jesus hasn't said, "I'm going to raise your brother from the dead right now."  He just says, Lazarus will live again, and Martha thinks it will happen in the last days.

And even though Martha mourns the loss of her brother, even though she believes Jesus could have prevented his death, even though she carries profound disappointment, she loves Jesus so much that she states, "Yes, I do believe all of this.  I believe you are the Messiah.  I believe that God sent you here."

And now Jesus asks Martha to get Mary.  He wants to see her.  And when Mary leaves the house quickly, the mourners from Jerusalem follow her because they think she's headed to the grave to cry and they want to watch.  In our world, we keep death at a distance, but death and life merge in this culture.  We might be in our twenties or thirties before anyone we're close to dies, but it's not that way for them.  They see death every day.

And when Mary sees Jesus, she falls at his feet and wails, "Where were you?  You could have saved my brother!"

And when Jesus sees her crying, when he sees her pain, he feels her pain with her.  The Bible tells he is moved in his spirit and is deeply troubled.  He asks the people to show him where Lazarus has been laid, and then he cries.  Jesus weeps.

I can't go to a funeral without crying.  Even if I don't know the person very well, I have to take tissue.  I cry for the family, cry for their loss, cry for their new life without the person who is now dead.

This is kind of like that, only Jesus is God.  And in this, we see God's heart of love and compassion for us.  He sees our pain, our disappointment, even our anger at the circumstances of life.  More than that, he feels our pain.  He understands us.

Jesus knows that in a few minutes, he will raise Lazarus from the dead, and so he knows it will all be okay in the end, but he doesn't say, "Don't worry, be happy.  It's all good--or at least it will be."  He doesn't say, "Hey.  Don't give it a second thought.  You know, all things work out together for good for those who love God . . ."

Instead he weeps. He knows us.  He loves us.  He weeps with us.

He weeps with us when we face the death of someone we love.
He weeps with us when we panic because of an illness.
He weeps with us when we lose our jobs and we don't know what God's going to do next.
He weeps with us when we wonder if our marriage will ever get better--or when we walk through divorce.
He weeps with us when our children rebel and we wonder what we've done wrong.  

Jesus knows what's going to happen next.  He sees the pieces and how they fall together.  He sees the resurrection, and he sees life.  But he knows we don't see clearly yet.  All we see is death.  And so he weeps.

We learn a lot about Jesus in these two words.
And we learn a lot about how we should treat other people.  

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