Almost anyone who grew up in Sunday School or is familiar with the Bible knows what the shortest verse in the Bible is. John 11:35 says, “Jesus wept.” In that instance Jesus was mourning the death of his friend Lazarus. In that case Jesus weeps because his friend Lazarus has died. This was a very personal kind of grief that most of us have also experienced. Death is a part of the human condition, and the incarnate Jesus knew all the heights and depths of humankind’s emotions.
Less familiar are the other two times in the Gospels that we are told Jesus cried. In both of those cases he is again grieving but on a macro scale for the city of Jerusalem and the whole Jewish people. Luke 13:34: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.”
And then on his final trip to Jerusalem and the cross Jesus weeps again. And no, Jesus is not weeping over his own coming passion and death. He weeps not for himself but again for the city of Jerusalem and the entire Jewish community. Luke tells us, “As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” (Luke 19:41-44)
The nation of Israel has had multiple chances not only from the Messiah but in generation after generation of prophets who have proclaimed the word of God to them. But they have been tone deaf and in extreme situations have “stoned and killed the prophets.”
I call those Scriptures to mind because I believe that Jesus is weeping again today over the United States. Like the Jews 2000 years ago way too many of us have not had ears to hear the Gospel of unconditional love that Jesus lived and died for. I can hear Jesus saying today, “Oh, America if only you had listened.”
We have refused to accept a boat load of scientific evidence about climate change for decades. This dangerous denial and refusal echoes the way the church treated Galileo and Copernicus 500 years ago. But our current situation is much more urgent and dangerous. Look at the recent evidence: so many hurricanes in 2020 that we have run through our alphabet naming them and now are well into the Greek alphabet. Devastating wildfires all over the western part of our country are still burning today because of years of drought due to climate change. The scientific community has been warning us for years that we are running out of time to stop poisoning Mother Earth. The rest of the world is taking this crisis much more seriously than we Americans. We are much too addicted to fossil fuel consumption because of the corporate greed of big oil companies. Our leadership still unbelievably calls the climate crisis a hoax because once more profits and stock dividends trump concern for the future of our children and grandchildren. And Jesus weeps.
Scientists and public health professionals have warned us for generations about the possibility of a global pandemic. Movie producers have frightened us with pandemic thrillers, but we have not been scared enough to admit and listen to the experts when we are actually living that nightmare. Numbers of COVID cases all over the country and world are increasing daily at alarming rates exactly like the scientists told us they would. Other pandemics like the Spanish Flu 100 years ago followed the same trajectory. Public health officials warned us that the fall flu season would be deadly if we all didn’t do our part to control the virus. Those warnings fell on far too many deaf ears plugged up with greed for political power and economic rewards superseding our value for human life. We ignore the experts and reopen businesses, bars, and bistros much sooner than is wise. The virus spreads like wildfire, and Jesus weeps.
When I reread the first Scripture about the death of Lazarus I noticed something I hadn’t before. The Gospels are carefully organized to show truth with a capital T. The stories in the Gospels are not randomly placed but are like pieces of a jig saw puzzle with each one making the total picture more complete and vivid. So immediately after the dramatic raising of Lazarus from the dead the very next thing John tells us is that Jesus went immediately into Jerusalem and drove the money changers out of the temple.
Why is that significant? It’s John’s way of telling us that Jesus’ purpose here on earth was not just to work miracles and minister to individuals. The complete Gospel message tells us that Jesus’ redemptive work then and now also includes confronting the systemic injustices found in our earthly institutions. That part of Jesus’ ministry just like Amos, Micah, Isaiah and all the other prophets remains unfulfilled today. Racism, endless wars, increasing injustice in the way economic power and wealth are distributed, and turning our fearful and angry communities into armed camps, just to mention a few, remain further from any workable solution than ever. And Jesus weeps.
I woke up this morning with the lyrics to one of the songs from the musical “Godspell” running through my head: (I apologize for the weird formatting, but I gave up fighting with WordPress after multiple attempts. I hate the changes WordPress has made in its site.)
“When wilt thou save the people?
O God of mercy when?
The people, Lord, the people,
Not thrones and crowns, but men!
God save the people, for thine they are,
Thy children as thy angels fair.
God save the people from despair.”
Dear God, when will you save us from this interminable year of 2020? When O God, when? And even as I uttered that prayer I knew it was the wrong question to ask, because we are a people of free will. God does not micromanage our lives but gives us freedom to make our own choices — and to take the consequences. You might say that God gives us enough rope to hang ourselves, and that noose is now tightening around our necks. God has given us the scientific knowledge to defeat this pandemic. What we are asked to do is not difficult. Yes it’s hard to give up all the activities we used to enjoy. I miss seeing my friends and family. I’m almost 74 years old and I hate having a year or more of the time I have left on this earth taken from me by an invisible enemy. Yes, it’s a nuisance to wear a mask and social distance, but those are not difficult things to do in order to save the lives of my neighbors; and I will continue to do them no matter how many fools around me refuse to do so. I’m sure Jesus also weeps for those who are too paranoid and taken in by conspiracy theories to do the right thing.
I too weep for our nation. These are the darkest days in my lifetime, and yet to carry on honestly facing the realities of our lives in 2020 I must dig deep and humbly ask God to empower and guide my life. And in those depths I hear words of faith like these from Psalm 30:
“Weeping may linger for the night, But joy comes with the morning.”
Or, as Maureen McGovern sang for the movie “The Poseidon Adventure” about a world literally turned upside down, as in a capsized ship:
“There’s got to be a morning after If we can hold on through the night
We have a chance to find the sunshine, Let’s keep on looking for the light.”
No matter how deep the darkness or how long the night lasts, joy will eventually come in God’s dawning of a bright new day