Jesus Wept

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Jesus Wept

Jesus Wept

March 12, 2009: Mumbai, India.

Unable to sleep through the night, I awaken at 3:00 AM and somewhat groggily log onto my computer to download email.  As the computer is booting up, I recall the dream I was experiencing before I woke up and feel compelled to search the hotel room for a Bible.  In my dream I had been asking a close friend why I was feeling such sorrow in my life, and in response he looked me in the eyes and simply affirmed that “even Jesus wept.”

I want to track down that phrase, but cannot find a Bible in my room.  Luckily, Google comes to the rescue and immediately finds the passage that bubbled up in my dream: “Jesus wept.”

The reference that Google points me to informs me that this passage, John 11:35, is the shortest verse in the Bible.  With no less than 14 translations along with parallel commentaries to assist me, I backtrack to the beginning of the chapter so I can better understand the context of this powerful passage.   

The previous chapter ends with Jesus having “slipped” away from the religious authorities that were trying to have him stoned for the blasphemy of claiming to be “One with God” and settling for a while across the River Jordan at the site where John the Baptist had first baptized people.  Chapter 11 opens with Jesus learning that his close friend Lazarus (“the one he loves”), the brother of Martha and Mary, is ill.    When Jesus learns this he confidently proclaims that this illness will not result in Lazarus’ death, but will serve to glorify God and the Son of God.  So despite the message from Martha and Mary, Jesus remains where he is for two days before deciding to go to Bethany (where Lazarus and his sisters live).  When he finally announces his intention to return to Judea, he informs his disciples that Lazarus has “fallen asleep” and that Jesus is leaving to wake him up.  The disciples take this statement literally until Jesus clarifies and tells them that Lazarus has died.

When Jesus and the disciples arrive at Bethany, Lazarus’ body has already been in the tomb for four days.  Martha (Lazarus’ sister) learns of Jesus’ arrival and she comes to him, proclaiming that her brother would not have died had Jesus been there and that even now God will grant whatever Jesus asks of him.  Jesus assures Martha that her brother will rise again.  Martha goes to fetch her sister, Mary, and tells her that Jesus has come and is waiting to see her.  Mary goes to Jesus, accompanied by friends that have been comforting her over Lazarus’ death, and like her sister affirms her faith in Jesus and her belief that her brother would not have died had Jesus been at his side.  Jesus is deeply moved and troubled when he sees Mary and her friends crying, and asks Mary to bring him where Lazarus has been buried.  It is at this point that we are told simply: Jesus wept.

Why did he weep?  Jesus goes on to do just what he has foretold his disciples, visiting Lazarus’ tomb and raising him from the dead and restoring him to life.  Since Jesus already knew that through God he would be granted the power to raise Lazarus from death, what was he mourning?  The various commentaries offer an insight, especially one one that observes that this passage “holds up to all ages with such touching brevity the sublime spectacle of the Son of God in tears.  What a seal of His perfect oneness with us in the most redeeming feature of our stricken humanity!”

So perhaps the question is not why did the Son of God weep in sympathy and compassion with his closest friends upon the death of Lazarus, but rather how, knowing all that he does of “our stricken humanity”, did he ever manage to not weep continuously?  The enormity of truly being in this world – fully embracing all aspects of this reality, both dark and light – but not of this world: this is the common bond we all share as children of God.  And the task that Jesus’ example lays before us is to extend our embrace to encompass all that is.

It is finally starting to sink in what I have gotten myself into by stepping onto the path of spiritual growth.  Like many, I have read with interest and delight descriptions of the ultimate bliss and incredible peace that accompany enlightenment, and although I have never made enlightenment a specific goal, something of that sort (peace, happiness, joy) has informed every step of my quest.  What I am starting to realize is that the spiritual path is not simply a romantic quest for enlightenment nor is it simply about achieving uninterrupted bliss. 

The ultimate path we must walk is the path of Truth: the truth of what is here and now, the truth of who we are, and the truth of what our world is.  This means embracing the complete truth: both the dark and the light, the horrific and the sublime, the cruel and the compassionate.   No, it is becoming clear that this path is not for the faint of heart, and I now understand why the Toltecs refer to those who follow this path as warriors.

A little over a year ago I participated in my first sweat lodge ceremony, and an event that happened during that ceremony foretold what the spiritual path would ultimately require of me.  This ceremony involves sitting in a sweat lodge (a wooden frame constructed from tree branches covered with wet blankets) and pouring water over red hot rocks that have been heated for hours in a fire pit.  My teachers referred to the rocks as “grandfathers”, and each of the participants in the ceremony had to select their own rock before the fire was lit.  I can clearly recall when my rock was brought into the lodge and the question that resonated through my being as it was nestled amongst its companions: How do I open my heart?

As this question reverberated through my mind, my rock split in two.  And in my mind, the Grandfather replied: This is how you open your heart: allow it to be broken open.

And isn’t the legacy that Jesus left us the ultimate example of allowing oneself to be broken open?  I am beginning to truly understand why He wept.

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