Today’s Gospel has the shortest, or at least one of the shortest, verses in the Bible: Jesus wept. It is one of the most poignant, and at several moments in the Gospel, there are other poignant moments, when Jesus, seeing the grief of others, becomes greatly perturbed or troubled. Throughout the story of Lazarus’ dying and being raised to life again, Jesus reveals profound emotion.
It reminds me of a meme that said something to the effect that Jesus wept even though he already knew Lazarus had died. Jesus wept even though he knew Lazarus would live again. Even though you know the end of the story, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t cry at the sad parts.
Right now, in the midst of this time of uncertainty, of fear of sickness and death, fear of financial loss and grief at actual loss, we are in a sad part of our story.
But this Gospel has a couple of things to teach us:
First, it’s OK to be greatly perturbed or deeply troubled by what is going on. These are troubling times. Scary times.
Jesus, even though He has conquered the world, sin and death, even though the end of the story is the resurrection and a new heavens and a new earth, in the present moment, he cares about what people are going through. He was deeply moved when he saw Mary’s grief and the others grieving with her. He grieved with her, even though he was planning to restore Lazarus to life. He grieved because anyone dying, and anyone grieving that death, is sad. And it’s OK to cry at the sad parts of life.
But then, Jesus calls us beyond this grief, and fear and uncertainty. And this call is itself unsettling. Jesus’ words and actions in this Gospel, while consoling, also seem very confusing:
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was. Then after this he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea. Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him.”
He loved Lazarus and his sisters, but he remained two days? Wouldn’t he be in a rush? As the people will say later, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?”
Also, Jesus says he was glad he was not there to prevent Lazarus from dying. What’s going on Jesus?
Why does he do this? Because there is something more important than our physical life and death. It is our faith in Jesus.
In everything Jesus did and said, even in the miracles and healings he performs, he is calling people to himself. The miracles aren’t about the results, eliminating disease and death. If his life was just about curing people, he failed; he did not cure all who were sick even in his own time, much less though all the ages since then. The miracles are meant to reveal to us who he is, the Only Begotten Son of God, God with us, and to call us to have faith in him and to trust him.
As Pope Francis prayed in his Urbi et Orbi address:
Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. This Lent your call reverberates urgently: “Be converted!”, “Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12). You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others.
Jesus does not promise to take away all suffering in this life. Eventually, yes, as the Book of Revelation says, in the coming Kingdom, every tear will be wiped away, there will be no sickness or suffering or death. But until then, Jesus is with us, and the trials and difficulties in this life are calls to be with those who mourn and who are scared, as Jesus is with them and with us. And to trust in Jesus – pray for healing, for an end to infections, for strength of healthcare workers and wisdom and compassion of leaders, but also for ourselves who might just be lonely and bored. Ultimately, though, he calls us to make use of this time of choosing what really matters in the light of Jesus and his call to discipleship, and to choose to follow him.