Written by Frankie Jones - Faculty, Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program
“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep."
There is a deceptive simplicity in the short verse of John 11:35, “Jesus began to weep.” There are just a few accounts of Christ weeping in the Gospels, and this one in particular has often puzzled me.
Why would Jesus weep when he knows he is about to raise Lazarus from the grips of death and reunite him with his friends and family? Why would Jesus not heal Lazarus from afar, as he had done previously for the centurion’s servant? Why would he weep, when he intentionally chose to let Lazarus die, remaining where he was for additional days, knowing that ultimately the death (and resurrection) of Lazarus was "for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it"?
Recently I’ve reflected on Mary and Martha’s words that immediately precede Christ’s tearful response. They say to Jesus, “Come and see.” When Jesus asks these two important women in his life where Lazarus lay, Mary and Martha do not give Jesus explicit instructions, but instead encourage him to walk with them there, “to come and see.”
Each of us has similarly been nudged to “come and see.” We have been called to an encounter with Christ, an invitation to a life of discipleship. Early in John’s Gospel the first disciples are born from their willingness to listen to Jesus—to go and to see. It can’t be by accident that this passage flips the script, with Mary and Martha urging Jesus himself to “come and see.” His response? To openly weep. This, admittedly, does not inspire confidence at first glance!
Yet, Christ in this moment models for us both the gravity and the grace that result from opening ourselves to God’s will. His tears are shed partly in empathy, crying with Mary and Martha and the others who loved Lazarus and who are feeling his absence deeply. But more and more I see the connection between Christ’s weeping and His own approaching death. At this moment, Jesus likely recognizes that by raising His friend from the dead, He is stoking the resentment and fear that will ultimately lead to His own death. In fact, a few verses later we are told “from this day on they made plans to put him to death.” Christ, in entering willingly into his passion and death, is the true and perfect witness of both the cost of believing and the gift of grace.
Our discipleship, too, does not come without cost—but also does not come without grace. Making God known, loved, and served is hard work. How often in our daily work do we open ourselves up to the deep empathy and vulnerability that Christ models for us in this passage? Those who believed and followed Jesus were those that suffered most deeply as they witnessed His torture and death on the cross, or later experienced it themselves. Discipleship means pursuing solidarity with those most marginalized and entering willingly into their way of the cross. Yet, in this dying, as in Lazarus’ dying, as in Jesus’ dying, there is great hope as well. For today’s Gospel is crystal clear about one thing, a prefigurement of the Easter truth: death and suffering do not have the final word.
As the Constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross so eloquently remind us, “There is no failure the Lord’s love cannot reverse, no humiliation He cannot exchange for blessing….He has nothing but gifts to offer. It remains only for us to find how even the cross can be born as a gift. We must be disciples with hope to bring!”