Jesus wept!

In 1965, the broadcaster Richard Dimbleby was reporting on the visit of the Queen to West Berlin. During transmission there were technical difficulties and then the picture disappeared. As they struggled to restore it, the exasperated Dimbleby was heard to exclaim, ‘Jesus wept!’ The BBC was deluged with complaints at the use of this expletive, and felt obliged to issue a disgruntled apology which said, ‘we are sorry a personal remark by Richard Dimbleby was overheard by the public. It was just one of those things and is understandable in the circumstances.

How times have changed. You hear a lot worse than that on the television now. It is curious that these two words, the shortest verse in the Bible, came to be used as an expletive for when things go wrong, or when we lose patience.

Why did Jesus weep, when he had known what he was going to do for Lazarus and had declared that his sickness would not end in death but in God’s glory?

The weeping of Jesus was taken by some as a sign of his love for Lazarus. Lazarus and his sisters were his intimate friends; their home in Bethany, a place where he could go and feel at home, amid all his wandering from place to place. Their home was a sanctuary for Jesus, all the more so because it was in Judea where there had been much hostility to Jesus and death-threats.

The sorrow of Jesus is an expression of his compassion for the grieving sisters. He sees the grief of Martha and Mary and feels their pain. He cannot suppress ‘a deep sigh that comes from the heart’ and is moved to tears. He suffers with them. I think one of the reasons he especially loved the sisters was their honesty and directness. Martha was the one who scolded him for not making Mary help her while she was doing all the cooking when Jesus visited. Mary had sat at his feet, taking in all he said. She had come to him in sorrow for her sins, her tears had bathed his feet, which she dried with her hair. When he arrives at Bethany, neither of them hold back, they tick him off:  if he had got here sooner, their brother would not be dead. They are exasperated. They let out their emotions to Jesus.

And yet, at this most desperate of times, they do not lose trust in Jesus: Martha declares her faith in him, ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the son of God, the one who was to come into the world.’

And a miracle follows.

At this time of uncertainty and fear, we must not lose faith in Jesus. We know he feels our pain as we suffer through this crisis. Our suffering, our pain, is felt by him who in this world was fully human yet fully divine. All that he suffered was taken back with him. When we pray to him, we are not praying to a cold, distant deity, but to one who knows and understands the human condition, and all that what we go through.

When I was a student at theological college at Mirfield, most of us would get wound up with each other from time to time. One of them went to his spiritual director, one of the monks at the house, to vent his frustrations. The monk told him he should scream at God. The student then went into the squash court closed the door and cried ‘aaaaaargh!’

There may be moments in the weeks to come, when we need to scream at God. That is all right, he can take it. It is better that we do it to him and not each other! Just as Jesus accepted the directness of the sisters of Bethany, so he takes whatever we throw at him. Indeed Jesus himself did the same on the cross, when he exclaimed ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me’. The more honest and direct our prayer, the better; we should tell Him how we really feel.

Next week, we begin Holy Week, a Holy Week none of us has experienced before. In this most awesome of weeks, I exhort you to follow, as closely as you can, the passion of Christ. By following him to Calvary and sharing his sufferings, we will see ever more clearly, how he accompanies us every step along the path of life and feels our pain.  

God may not answer our prayer as we wish or expect, but no prayer goes unheard. The answer may not be immediate, just as Jesus did not come straight away to Bethany. But He who says ‘seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you’, will come to us.

And miracles may follow.  


Gospel reading: John 11.1-45