“Jesus wept.” The shortest verse in the Bible. When you grow up in an evangelical, Sunday school-based world, you memorize Scripture, you learn trivia about Scripture, you play Bible trivia with your friends. It’s what you do. You’re taught that good works don’t count, but my if you aren’t expected to do the good works of memorizing Scripture and learning Bible trivia, of knowing that the shortest verse in the Bible reads “Jesus wept.” But what you don’t learn is that chapters and verses were 16th and 17th century inventions, and I don’t recall much encouragement in the way of learning to read whole passages, whole books, to understand the relationship between wholes and parts. And thus I learned “Jesus wept,” and knew it had something to do with Lazarus’s death. But I never understood Jesus’s weeping; after all, he raised Lazarus from the dead. It made little sense for him to weep.
But Jesus does not cry for sadness. No, if we read the entire passage, we see that Jesus weeps because he is moved, because he is moved precisely because of the faithfulness of Mary and Martha and their friends and fellow Jews, their faithfulness in who Jesus was, in his power. Of course, there is the unbelief of others, and certainly, this would have been upsetting to Jesus. But he is moved because of faithfulness, because there are those who recognize his love. So we learn when we read the entire passage.
But we also miss something when we read only this passage, or read it only as foreshadowing of Christ’s own resurrection. The rest of the day’s readings make clear there is more at work here; there is the need of remembering that we are called to die with Christ, to die to the flesh, as Paul points out. This is not to call Paul a dualist who hates the physical life, but rather to recognize that Christ calls us to sacrificing our mere, flawed humanity to Christ, to the Spirit, to the greater life, the greater ends, the more complete version of humanity to which God calls us. What we must recognize is that Christ calls us forth, but to call us forth, we must first recognize our deadness; it is not that we will not become as dry bones, but that we are always already dry bones. And God calls us forth from that to life, makes a new creation of us. Our faith does not glorify death and hate life. It rather recognizes that we are dead, calls us to the admittance of our death, and to a faith that we will be made alive, that we will be redeemed from all our inquities, that we will be alive.
That is my belief; I pray that Jesus weeps for me and my faith.
Let us pray:
God of all consolation and compassion,
your Son comforted the grieving sisters, Martha and Mary;
your breath alone brings life
to dry bones and weary souls.
Pour out your Spirit upon us,
that we may face despair and death
with the hope of resurrection
and faith in the One
who called Lazarus forth from the grave. Amen.