March 9 2008 – John 11:1-45
The gospel reading for this Sunday is another long one – the raising of Lazarus. This powerful passage raises so many questions in my mind, some of which don’t necessarily help me understand the text (e.g. why is this story only in John? Did Matthew, Mark & Luke miss is? Consider it unimportant? – at this point in my life questions like that are vaguely interesting but basically I don’t care!). Other questions that the text practically screams to be asked:
- When Jesus heard that his friend Lazarus was ill, why did he wait two days before going to him?
- When Jesus is met outside of town by Martha, why does he wait there and make Mary come out to him?
- Does the raising of Lazarus mean that Mary & Martha will experience two bereavements, pay for two funerals?
While there are answers to these questions, they’re worth considering and making the subject of your prayers.
One question that I’ve spent time on in past sermons is – why does Jesus weep? Consider that in the gospel of John, Jesus is in charge. Jesus is in control. He lays down his life and takes it up again. It may strike us strange, then, that this kind of Jesus weeps – since we tend to think of emotional displays as a matter of losing control. Did Jesus lose control when he wept?
Over the years I’ve read three explanations for why Jesus wept:
- He’s expressing grief at the unbelief around him. He knows that life is coming and that some will not believe and so he grieves for them. There’s something to this, but if it’s the case I wonder why Jesus didn’t weep when Nicodemus came at night, when the rich young ruler turned away, when the disciples don’t understand what he’s saying. I think there’s truth in this answer, but I think there’s more to it.
- He’s showing he’s human, expressing the pain of losing a friend. The text does say, twice for emphasis, that Jesus was “greatly disturbed”. Similarly to the waters of baptism, then, the water of his tears display his humanness. Again, there’s truth in this answer, but for some reason I still think there’s more.
- He’s showing “how he loved him”. Jesus’ tears are a sign of love, that love is not a way around pain or to avoid pain, but is the way thru pain.
These are all good, worthy answers – but what strikes me now is a key element I think is behind each of these answers. It has to do with Jesus being in charge, with Jesus setting the agenda. He’s not going to the tomb wondering how it’s all going to turn out! He’s knows what’s going to happen, even before he leaves for Bethany. Jesus knows he’s going to raise Lazarus back to life as surely as we know the sun will rise tomorrow. Yet he weeps!? If you knew for a fact you’d be seeing grandma tomorrow, would you be weeping at her funeral today? What sense does that make? Then it hit me – Jesus weeps because he chooses to. He’s not overcome by feelings, he’s not breaking down into tears. He chooses to weep, just as he chose the cross, because he chooses not to spare himself the pain of being human.
I’ve said to my congregation several times, but I’m not sure that it’s sunk in – that Jesus is FULLY human; we’re only partially human. While Jesus’ divinity shines like a beacon throughout the gospel of John, his fully human nature is evident too. Being fully human doesn’t mean having no pain. It means knowing the reason, the aim and end of the pain, the joy to which the pain is designed to lead us.
Jesus accepts his limits as a fully human being because he’s unafraid of them.
How ’bout you?