Thursday, September 8, 2011

Jesus Wept

“When Jesus saw Mary weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved... Jesus began to weep.” ~John 11:33, 35 (NRSV).

God feels. As we feel, a mirror image of the Lord, so too our Lord felt. Yet, this passage of John’s Gospel separates many a commentator for the type of tears that Jesus wept. And it appears a literal reading of the original Greek words does prove a contentious point.

Angry Tears?

The word used in the Greek to describe Jesus’ reaction at Mary’s and the Jews’ tears is actually quite adversarial. He is “deeply moved” and not, as it seems, in sympathy. He is possibly indignantly angry. He is ripped to the heart that Mary and the Jews don’t already see what he is capable of.

Was the emotion that propelled Jesus to weep, anger? Somehow, it just seems too hard to reconcile. Let’s move on.

Compassionate Tears?

This is a second option; and perhaps our preferred one at that.

It’s clear that Jesus wept quite differently in response to the death of Lazarus, and the weeping of Mary and the Jews. We know this because the Apostle John uses a very rare Greek word to single out the tears of our Lord. Perhaps, again, these are tears of exasperation—the faithlessness of Mary and the Jews in full view.

But I wonder, knowing the heart of the Lord, imagining him confronted with such grief, would he really be angry?

Our Decision Is Our Answer

The decision we make as to whether Jesus was angry or compassionate provides an answer toward the theology we base our faith on.

Consider for a moment that Jesus knew that Lazarus would be raised; that not only that, but the latency of his raising would give even more glory to God. Four days dead and not one man or woman would believe. Reading verses 38-44 we get a glimpse of just how alone—with the Father—Jesus felt. Was this not similar, emotively speaking, to what was about to come; the Garden of Gethsemane experience?

Again, if we rally against the ‘anger’ answer we see a very human Jesus; maybe too human. God knows what God is capable of. We perhaps forget that Jesus was fully human whilst being fully Divine also. Then again, only a human might be tempted into despair. In this, Jesus shows his humanity.

As we dig deeply into the array of possible emotion Jesus experienced we have to entertain everything our minds can conceive. This is a difficult reading.

Is Jesus responding to the barbed goad of Mary? (John 11:32b) Had he been there earlier Lazarus might have been saved. Mary still sees the miracles of God tied to the process of time—she can’t get past a worldly conception of Divinity. Jesus may have well wondered what might shake them toward full belief.


There is a challenge for us in this. Jesus’ tears, whilst possibly evoked in compassion, are more likely to have been founded in the same sense of exasperation he was to experience in his final twelve hours of life.

We can see the raw Divinity of Jesus, here; our Lord with no thought for earthly or human boundary in the construction of miracles. Jesus wept because of a faithless situation. That sin grieves God’s heart.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

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