2 Apr 2017
“Jesus began to weep.” (John 11:35) In the name …
I imagine there may be more than a few Jeopardy! fans among us this morning. If ever you’re watching and they ask what the shortest verse is in the Bible, well, you just heard it. And before there was a New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, there was the Revised Standard Version, and in that older translation, John 11:35 was even shorter. It was just: “Jesus wept.” The chapters and verses that we now find in the Bible originated only in the middle of the 16th century, but even so, for some 500 years now, we stand in the tradition that separated and highlighted those Greek words. Jesus wept was such an extraordinary statement that it has stood alone for half a millennium.
Jesus wept is part of the Lazarus story. John begins telling us about Lazarus by linking him to his better known sisters, Mary and Martha. It’s a little strange, but John distinguishes Mary from her sister by saying that she is the one who anointed Jesus’ feet, but the reader of John’s Gospel doesn’t know this story until the next chapter. This is important, but it’s too much to get into now, but Bible class starts in about a month. But anyway, Mary and Martha send a note to Jesus telling Him that Lazarus is deathly ill. These three siblings are disciples of an extraordinary faith and they fully expect that Jesus will be able to heal Lazarus. Jesus, however, delays and does not rush to their side.
When Jesus finally arrives, He hears that His friend Lazarus has died. As Jesus gets closer to the village, word of His approach reaches the two sisters. When Martha hears this, she rushes out to meet Him. “If only you had been here,” she mourns, “then my brother would not have died.” This is a remarkable degree of faith in what Jesus could have done, and it keeps increasing until she declares that Jesus is the very Son of God. We’re used to this kind of terminology after 2,000 years, but this is an absolutely remarkable theological statement for anyone living at the same time as Jesus.
The Bible then tells us that Martha sends word to her sister Mary. Mary had also heard of Jesus’ approach, but she decided to stay put. She decided not to go out to Jesus. Later, at her sister’s insistence, she goes out to meet Him, and she kneels before Jesus in another act of extraordinary faith. But now I’d like to ask you a question, something to think about, because my take on this story is just that, it’s only my opinion. But why did Mary stay back when her sister first went out to meet Jesus? Do you think Mary is disappointed with Jesus? Both sisters have shown a remarkable amount of faith in Jesus. Both sisters believed that Jesus could have saved Lazarus. When Jesus doesn’t come, does Mary grow angry with Him, and is this why she refuses to go out to meet Him? And does John share this with us because this is not an uncommon occurrence in any age? Do we get angry with Jesus when bad things happen, when we feel He could have done more?
So still in that mode of asking some questions, because I’m not sure, Martha had said to Jesus, “If only you had been here …,” and it sounds almost like, “It’s a shame you didn’t make it in time, you could have saved Lazarus.” Mary says the exact same words as her sister when she finally comes out to Jesus. I mean word for word. But when Mary says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” is it possible to hear in her words a statement of blame? “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” And she weeps at Jesus’ feet maybe not only in despair, but also in disillusionment. Now is when we hear that Jesus is both “deeply moved” and also “greatly disturbed in spirit.” Those are not the same sentiments. Deeply moved can be the sorrow over Lazarus’ death and the grieving of his two sisters, but greatly disturbed in spirit is something more. Is Jesus troubled, even distressed, over Mary’s accusation that He did not care enough? Jesus has already seen a lot of pain and suffering in His life, but it is only at this point that we hear those two words: Jesus wept. Was it the combination of being confronted with more suffering, and then added onto this, the sight of looking down at Mary weeping at His feet not only because of the death of her brother but because of what Jesus had done or rather had not done? Did that accusation of indifference drive Jesus over the emotional threshold so that Jesus wept? I don’t know, but there needs to be a reason why John tells us that “Mary stayed at home,” and also why Jesus wept.
Today is Passion Sunday, a time to consider the fact that Jesus was forced to go into hiding in order to prevent a premature death. He needed one final attempt, away and alone, to speak with His disciples about what was going to happen and try to prepare them for the cross. The shrouds remind us that Jesus came to embrace the world, but the world preferred that He not bother them. The shrouds remind us that it’s our decision whether or not Jesus is a presence in our world, community, family and lives. They also tell us that Jesus could have gone away. He could have slipped into seclusion and disappeared not for a while, but for good. He could have avoided the cross. Instead, as we will remember next Sunday, He marches right into Jerusalem with crowds of people screaming “Hosanna to the Son of David,” and at that moment He seals His fate. What I hope we appreciate as we enter the Passiontide Season in the church is that Jesus’ love for us is absolute and absolutely unconditional. He did not abandon us even when we wished that He would just leave us alone.
We can never take this for granted. And in this context, maybe we can ask ourselves if there is any sort of a connection between this Passion Sunday narrative and Mary’s story of staying away? Does Jesus wept have any connection with Mary not thinking He loved her enough and with Passion Sunday’s message that maybe Jesus isn’t as much a part of our world as He could be because people don’t think, again, that He loves us enough? I don’t know, but these last two weeks of Lent are the perfect time to think about the reason behind that stand-alone verse: Jesus wept and our relationship to them. Maybe this is something we can think about on our own as we approach ever closer to the cross. In Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo