Jesus Wept

22/06/11 | Posted by MattPage

It's the shortest verse in the whole Bible and occasionally some people even use it to swear, but there's no doubt that John 11:35 - "Jesus wept." - is an odd little verse. According to the gospels, by this point in his ministry Jesus has already brought two people back from the dead and seems to know that he's about to do something similar. And yet there he stands outside his friend's tomb and weeps.

Last month, my wife’s mum died after a long battle with cancer, so, perhaps unsurprisingly this is a passage that’s been on my mind. Why would Jesus heal Lazarus and not her? Did someone just make this particular story up? And if they did, why on earth would the original audience have ever believed it? If anything, they were even more acquainted with death (and its permanence) than we are today. No matter how unsophisticated that society may have been, even its most poorly educated knew that dead people stay dead.

So perhaps Jesus wept out of sympathy for those mourning, or because he was just conforming to the expected social norm. But perhaps his tears represented something deeper, like a wail of pain and anger at the loss of his friend. Did he even know exactly what was going to happen? Or, for a moment, did he fear that he had actually lost his friend; his cry an indication that his human doubts temporarily obscured his vision of God’s plans.

However, there’s another reason Jesus may have wept, though it is somewhat speculative. The gospels only talk about Joseph while Jesus was a child. During Jesus’ ministry, his mother, brothers and sisters all come to see him but there’s no mention of his dad. Given that life expectancy was much lower in those days, and that Jesus was already in his early thirties by the time these events occurred, it seems quite likely that by this time Joseph had died.

Perhaps in this moment Jesus was reminded of his dead father; the pain he felt at his loss and the frustration of not bringing him back from the dead. Confronted with his dead friend, painful memories welled up and temporarily rendered him speechless.

Some say Jesus has already conquered death. Paul implied that death has lost its sting. But it doesn’t seem like that to me at all at the moment. On the contrary, my mother-in-law is dead and yesterday my friends lost their 6 year old son to a long term medical condition. Death may be beaten but somehow it still seems to be managing to fight on.

So I’m glad this little verse made the cut. Sometimes Jesus’ tears are actually more comforting than his supposed victory.

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Thank you for being so honest, Matt.

I am getting less interested in dry mathematical doctrine extrapolated from the gospels, and more into the gutsy, earthy, real emotions that we see there. Love your last sentence.


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