And Jesus Wept

The Gospels tell of two instances when Jesus cried. In the Gospel of John, he wept at the death of his close friend Lazarus. On his way to Bethany he met Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus. When he asked, “‘Where have you laid him?' They answered, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, ‘See how much he loved him!’” (Jn 11:34-47). In this instance, the Greek word used for weep means to cry silently—that deep sigh of the heart and heaving of the shoulders, the complete emptying of the self that knows no comfort. In the Christian faith Jesus is both God and human. His attachment to his friends was as great as any we might have. And he experienced what we all do. When the closest of friends dies, there is no quarter for consolation.

Luke’s Gospel gives us the other instance of Jesus weeping. His death was at hand and he was about to embark on a series of confrontations with the chief priests and other leaders. As Jesus approached Jerusalem he wept over the city for it did not recognize the time of its visitation (Lk 19:41-48). In this instance the Greek word for weep means to
wail aloud—the cries and pangs of frustration, even defeat. This is the agony of one who has been unable to move the self-righteous and cold-hearted toward compassion; to convince others that all are sinners; that all are God’s children; that all are worthy of love and redemption. This is the weeping that is relevant today for Jesus’s confrontations with the chief priests continue into the present.

Today's chief priests are the Catholic Bishops of the United States. And as Jesus looks over this country, he once again wails in agony. Last week’s discussion about whether politicians who support abortion rights are worthy to receive communion, and the subsequent decision to draft a policy, is in stark contrast to Jesus himself. The bishops have chosen to turn a deaf ear to the life and ministry of Jesus. They have chosen, on rather tenuous ground, to judge who might be worthy to receive communion and to condemn those whom they consider sinners.

There are too many deficiencies with the bishops’ arguments to adequately confront them all here. Others, far more eloquent than I, have noted that there are life issues beyond abortion—of equal merit—that must be addressed by believers. Still others have pointed out that the Eucharist is not a prize to be attained, but a gift to institute healing. Before receiving Communion each person prays, “Lord, I am not worthy.” Here it might be worth remembering the social situation of Jesus’s time.

Those who were considered unworthy were outcast. Lepers were isolated in colonies, tax collectors shunned, prostitutes marginalized, and adulterers stoned. Not by Jesus. He intervened to prevent the stoning of an adulteress; ate with prostitutes; took shelter in the homes of tax collectors; touched and healed lepers.

There is a poetic element to all of this. In the Catholic faith, nothing is as important as the presence of Jesus. Hence the significance of the Eucharist. For a person to eat the Body and drink the Blood of Christ is to invite Jesus to dwell within them. That is precisely what Jesus did during his ministry for the outcasts of his day. He dwelt among them. More than just dwelling, he spent precious time with them. And for such association he was loudly criticized. Rather than succumbing to his critics, Jesus continued ministering to those deemed unworthy by religious leaders.

It should be noted that there is not a single example in the gospels of Jesus condemning any individual. He did, of course, challenge groups of people. Sometimes in rather stark language. Such as in the twenty third chapter of Matthew’s gospel, when he called out a series of woes against the scribes and pharisees. I suggest that chapter should prove sobering and humbling reading for the discriminating bishop.

In the meantime, the bishops seem unmoved by Jesus's ministry and undaunted by his prophetic woes. They choose, instead, to seek new groups to ostracize and cast out. They have set themselves up as arbiters of whom Jesus should dwell with. But it seems to me that is Jesus's decision to make. And it also seems to me that in his ministry two thousand years ago, he already showed his hand.

How little things have changed in the last two thousand plus years. Today Jesus need not draw near to Jerusalem to be overcome with grief. Today Jesus draws near to the United States. He wails aloud in agony that the fire of his truth has not been able to melt the hearts of the bishops.

There is, of course, more going on than just judgment and condemnation. And I hope to address that in another piece. For now…

Indeed, Jesus weeps.