A God Who Weeps With Us
“And Jesus wept.” — John 11:35
It strikes me every time I read the story of Lazarus’ resurrection. Of all the amazing and surprising things to occur in this Gospel passage — dead man walking! (well, dead man hopping, really) — it is this small detail that never fails to catch my eye, never fails to compel me and confound me.
Why did Jesus weep?
He knows the ending of the story. He knows Lazarus will be raised. So why does he weep?
Several years ago, I suffered a miscarriage. It was very early in the pregnancy, and so the news came to our older children all at once: there was a baby, and now the baby is gone. They understood and they did not understand. They nodded wisely at our words, accepting the information, absorbing it, wrapping their minds around this blessing-become-loss. They held the idea of a younger sibling in their mind, turning it over and inspecting it — I saw this in their eyes — and they did not know quite what to do with such a thing as great happiness that becomes great sorrow. Do any of us, really?
We still talk often about the baby that we lost — Julian, we named him — and he is a presence in their minds that makes himself known whenever we confront the subjects of suffering, pain, sadness, and loss.
“Why did God want Julian to die?” my daughter asked me recently, and I hastened to explain that God did not want Julian to die. “But why wasn’t he born, then?” she asked, shaking her head in confusion.
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Both Martha and Mary say this to Jesus when he comes to them in their grief. They don’t say it as reproach, but as testimony: their faith is great that, had Jesus been present, he would not have stood by and watched his friend suffer, and done nothing.
But Jesus was not there. He delayed in the place where he was, and Lazarus died, and now Martha and Mary have to face a future of uncertainty without the protection and companionship of their brother.
And when at last Jesus finally comes to Bethany, the sisters kneel before him and reaffirm their faith in Jesus’ love for them and in his power over life and death. And they accept that this was a power he did not use for their benefit, even though he could have. They accept their suffering.
The women had no expectations. We see that over and over again — they believe clearly that Jesus can bring their brother back, but they don’t dare to dream that he will. “If you had been here,” they say. If you had been here. If you had been here.
And Jesus wept — as if to say: I am here now.
Any suffering that we offer to God, he will sit with us and weep over. And he will accept our offering and take it and transform it from a meaningless pain into a force for good. He most often does this in ways we cannot see and cannot know — not here on earth, and not all at once. We could not bear the knowledge. It would be too much.
So, we understand, but we do not understand.
I could not tell my daughter why Julian was not born. As human beings, we are handicapped by our earthly comprehension of power. If God has the ability to make something easy, we say, then why doesn’t he do it? If God can prevent pain, isn’t it awful of him not to? And in fact, doesn’t that redirect the blame for every misfortune, every loss, every evil in this world to the feet of the One who could have kept it all from happening in the first place?
God can do anything. Can’t he make a world where we don’t suffer?
But my friends, he has. And he has invited us there. And until we can go, he will sit with us in this world — this broken, sinful, dying world — and he will weep.
~Reflection provided by: Colleen Jurkiewicz Dorman
Readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent: Lectionary 34
Gracious and holy Father,
grant us the intellect to understand you,
reason to discern you, diligence to seek you,
wisdom to find you, a spirit to know you,
a heart to meditate upon you.
May our ears hear you, may our eyes behold you,
and may our tongues proclaim you.
Give us grace that our way of life may be pleasing to you,
that we may have the patience to wait for you
and the perseverance to look for you.
Grant us a perfect end—your holy presence,
a blessed resurrection and life everlasting.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.
—Prayer of St. Benedict
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