Lazarus dies, and jesus weeps. He doesn’t get to his friend Lazarus in time, in time to touch his sick body, to heal him. All that’s left to do is mourn. So we have the shortest verse in the Bible: “And Jesus wept” (John 11:35).
Some biblical interpreters emphasize the strangeness of Jesus in the Gospel of John — his otherness, his mysterious speeches, his odd behavior that confuses the people who meet him. He comes across as otherworldly: As the first chapter describes him, Jesus is the eternal word from heaven, a bewildering light cast into the night of incomprehension.
But then we read about him mourning the loss of a friend. What can be more human, more earthly, more ordinary, than crying? — the way that emotions sneak up on us, catching us off guard, reminding us that our bodies defy us. Tears betray our grip on ourselves.
Jesus weeps. He is “greatly disturbed.” The storyteller repeats this phrase (John 11:33 and 38), making the inner life of Jesus an emphasis of the passage.
The Greek word here has everything to do with bodily emotion, his visceral response. Jesus can’t bear the loss of Lazarus, and the weight of it all presses into his body. He cries. He shudders. Because he lost a beloved friend: “Our friend Lazarus,” he says (John 11:11).
Observing Jesus’ deep emotion, some of the onlookers say: “See how he loved him!”
Jesus’ tears have everything to do with waiting, with undergoing time. We, as human beings, persevere even when our desire for redemption feels unbearable. Jesus weeps not because he’s convinced that he’ll never see Lazarus again.
Instead, Jesus knows he will see him again, but not until the end of time.
That’s what Martha believes, and so does Jesus — a common Jewish belief about restoration. “Martha said to Jesus, ‘I know that Lazarus will rise again in the resurrection on the last day’ ” (John 11:24).
Yes, they will see him again, but not soon enough. They will have to suffer a lifetime of waiting and longing. The separation overwhelms him.
I don’t know what shifts for Jesus in that moment, as he weeps, as the unbearable sense of loss trembles through him. For reasons unrevealed to us, mysterious beyond our comprehension, Jesus risks a miracle. He calls upon the power of heaven to free Lazarus from the tomb, to liberate him from the power of death.
In Jesus we see the nature of God’s love revealed: that the one who made all things, the creator of the world, is affected by a friendship.
Jesus is undone at the loss of a friend.
There is nothing else in this world that Jesus wants more than to be with the people God loves, to be with us, with all of us. And nothing will get in the way of Jesus’ desire for fellowship with his friends, not even the grave.
That’s what we find out at the end, when he tells the crowd to roll away the stone at the entrance of the tomb. “Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, Come out!’ ” (John 11:43). Death cannot destroy Jesus’ friendships.
The scene ends with the assurance of reunion. But in the middle, Jesus weeps as he longs for the restoration of his companionship.
And that’s where we find ourselves in the story. That’s where we find ourselves in our world. We’re in the middle, with Jesus, aching for redemption.
And in the midst of it all, the invitation is to fall in love with the world we have, a world full of heartbreak and devastation, of death and loss.
The tears of Jesus are an invitation to love, to be overwhelmed by what we have — to love this world, this earth, this life. To love the people around us. To love them with God’s love.
The Christian life is this: to be known by our love.