Fifth Sunday of Lent - Fr. Pete Iorio
March 25, 2023 - 5:00 PM
March 26, 2023 - 8:30 AM
Monsignor Bill loved the tv game show Jeopardy. We will take Bible for 200 please. The answer is: the shortest verse in the Bible. And I am sure that many of you would get the right response. What is John 11:35 Jesus wept? Just two words… but they are more than an answer to a question about the Bible.
The verse should cause us to wonder why Jesus wept. After all, He knew that he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, and that everything would be all right. But there’s more going on than that. Jesus is fully human and had a deep friendship with Martha and Mary and their brother Lazarus.
Our Gospel story says that he is confronted by both of his female friends with a similar statement, said at different times. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” It is a statement of faith in his power, as well as perhaps a tinge of anger that he did not get there in time to save Lazarus. And Jesus feels their pain and anguish.
Jesus could honestly say, “it’s all going to work out. Don’t worry. Don’t cry or be upset with me.” He could really mean it, and really back it up. But he never does say that. Faced with their grief, he feels it too. And standing there in the midst of their turmoil, questions, accusations, bereavement, and crying eyes, Jesus wept.
Following Jesus’s example, expressing such grief does not indicate that we lack faith in the resurrection. It is a truly human feeling that we love the person who died as well as those who grieve. Jesus set an example of showing compassion for the bereaved by sincerely shedding tears even though he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead.
André Resner, a professor of Homiletics and Church Worship at Hood Theological Seminary in Salisbury, North Carolina gives a powerful insight.
They move from the edge of Bethany town where the weeping happens to the tomb. John vividly describes Jesus’s reaction upon arriving face-to-face with the cave and the stone in front of its entrance. The evangelist uses the Greek word embrimomai to describe Jesus’s feelings. Our translation says deeply moved. That does not get at the true meaning of Jesus is feeling. Embrimomai is a word that was used in the ancient world for the angry snorting of horses, to express indignation. Why would Jesus be indignant or angry before the tomb? The reason is because he is up against that which he has come into this world to defeat – that is death.Jesus is the self-proclaimed resurrection and life. Everything that the graveyard stood for was a challenge to his very identity.
So Jesus has these very real human feelings of anger and sadness at the death of Lazarus as do Martha and Mary especially when they say, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
And do we not feel the same way when we weep over senseless deaths? Lord, if you had been in the heart of Africa, twelve million people would not have been stolen from their homes and communities for the slave trade. Lord, if you had been in Nazi Germany, you could have stopped Hitler before he began. Lord, if you were in Uvalde, Texas last year, 19 young students and two teachers would not have died in gun violence. Lord, if you were here, 200 million people around the globe would not be going hungry tonight. Lord, if only you had been here…. The anguished statement of Martha and Mary is very often our statement.
Now let’s go back to John 11:35. This very short verse tells us something crucial about God’s presence in the world. The tears of Jesus are testimony, a confession of faith in a God who is with us in our struggle and pain. A God who does not avoid our grief but continues to stand with us in a world of loss …most of the time as one who still weeps with us, in us, and even through us. The anger and grief we feel are the stuff of faithful living. It is because we have hoped so much, and believed so much, and risked love so much that we grieve, and that we too are angry. To weep is really to hope. To be angry is really to believe. It is faith that perseveres. It is with this faith that we enter into Passiontide 2023 trusting in the death and resurrection of Jesus for the whole world and for every time and place.