This week’s gospel reading chronicles the amazing miracle when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. This event takes up most of chapter 11 in John’s Gospel. Contained within this reading is the shortest verse in the Bible, verse 35: “Jesus wept.”
This little verse reveals quite a bit about Jesus’ character. We know that Jesus and Lazarus were very close friends, because at the beginning of the reading, Lazarus’ sisters sent word to Jesus saying, “Master, the one you love is ill.”
Since Jesus and Lazarus were such good friends, it’s understandable Jesus was emotional and began to weep while standing before Lazarus’ grave. Especially given the fact that Jesus didn’t arrive until four days after the funeral.
But wait a minute. Jesus missed the funeral on purpose. When He first heard of Lazarus’ illness, Jesus stayed put for a number of days before starting the journey to Bethany, Lazarus’ home town.
More importantly, Jesus knew what He was about to do: bring Lazarus back to life. If anything, He should have been laughing instead of weeping. I mean, Jesus knew how this was going to turn out, right? He should’ve had a smirk on His face and a twinkle in His eye that communicated the message, “They ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”
However, despite this, Jesus wept. Why did He weep? Did He weep out of empathy with Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, who were wracked with grief? Did He weep because He was surrounded by unbelief, surrounded by people who were convinced of death’s finality and who didn’t understand that Jesus’ mission on earth was to change that situation? Did He weep because He was face-to-face with the stench of death itself, the stronghold of Satan, the awful result of sin? (If I had to guess, I would say this is the most likely reason Jesus wept.)
Whatever the reason for Jesus’ weeping—despite the fact that He knew the Lazz Man was about to walk out of that tomb and everyone’s grief would turn to joy—His anguish showed that He possessed the full complement of human emotions.
Because Jesus is divine, it’s sometimes hard to appreciate that He also was fully human. He really did laugh, He slept, He got sick, He stubbed his toe, He hit his thumb with a hammer, and yes, He even wept.
As the letter to the Hebrews says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.”
God took on human flesh so that we could better relate to Him. The Incarnation is a fabulous gift to the world. The vast gulf between the holy God and sinful mankind finally was bridged by the Incarnation. Jesus is fully God and fully man.
Nowadays people often focus on one or the other of Jesus’ two natures. Some emphasize Jesus’ divinity and downplay His humanity. This is the Gnostic view of God, the idea that Jesus was just a spirit and only appeared to come in the flesh. Others emphasize His humanity and downplay His divinity. This is the secular viewpoint, which considers Jesus a good and wise teacher, but even if He wasn’t actually God or didn’t physically rise for the dead, that’s OK. We just need to follow His teachings on social justice and not worry about all that divinity stuff. (And, if you haven’t been paying attention, this viewpoint is fairly popular today in many “progressive” church denominations and even Catholic seminaries).
Please don’t lose sight of the awesome reality of Jesus. He is fully God—“Through Him all things were made”—and at the same time He is fully man—“Jesus wept.” He loves us and cares about us, and He has the power to save us. They don’t call it the “Good News” for nothing.