“Jesus wept.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
I remember being a smart-alecky church kid. Whenever we were asked if we had memorized any Bible verses, there was always one we could cite. Not chapter and verse, mind you, but at least the verse itself. It was this one. It’s easy. Two words. Nine letters. Eleven digital characters in total. Anyone can memorize Bible verses. You’re welcome. But as short and simple as this verse is, there’s a whole lot of truth packed into if we are willing to sit long enough to see it. Let’s talk about it.
Let me take you back to one of the most profound television episodes of any show I’ve seen…maybe ever. Any guesses on the genre? Superhero, of course. Let’s go back to the penultimate episode of Marvel’s surprise hit Wandavision, entitled “Previously On.” (Which was, tragically, completely snubbed at this year’s Emmy awards. The industry revealed once again they are too snobby to recognize what excellent content is being produced out of the superhero genre these days. Not all of it is good, of course, but Wandavision, and this episode in particular, were exceedingly good. It, along with two other episodes, making up half the entries in the category, was nominated for an Emmy for Best Directing in a Limited or Anthology Series, and not a single one of them won. They even gave an Emmy to one of the actors from the show, but for his performance in a different show. That being said, Ted Lasso, The Crown, and The Queen’s Gambit all won big which I wasn’t sad to see. But the near total snubbing of Wandavision was awful. Enough media ranting for now.)
A couple of weeks before this setup for the finale aired on Disney+, I went out on a limb and predicted the show’s ultimate theme. Here’s a link to that blog. When most of the reviewers were salivating over when and how the show would reveal the villain Mephisto was really the one pulling the strings behind the scenes, I made a prediction the show wasn’t going to do any of that. I said the whole thing was an examination of grief and the process of grieving…with super powers as a convenient add-on. I’m not ashamed to say I was right. I also hated the fact that I wrote up my review before this episode premiered. As the episode entered its final act, the character Vision delivered one of the most poignant and profound lines I’ve ever heard from any character in any show I’ve ever watched.
In a scene from Wanda’s past that never made any of the previous movies, Vision enters her room at the Avenger’s Compound (through the wall, of course) and has a conversation with her about her pain over the recent loss of her brother. Her life to that point had been fairly well marked by tragedy. Her parents were killed when a missile made by Stark Enterprises pounded through the wall of their apartment. The fact that it didn’t explode (which we learn in the final episode of Wandavision was the result of her using her powers before she realized she had them) saved her and her brother’s life. She and her brother, driven by their grief and anger, signed up to be Hydra guinea pigs in their experiments with the Mind Stone, greatly heightening their nascent abilities. They ultimately joined with Ultron who used them as pawns in his attempt to destroy all of humanity. They turned on him and joined the Avengers, but she lost her brother, Pietro, in the process. And in the moment, Wanda was being reminded of all of this while she wrestled with her current grief over losing Vision. In short: She was hurting.
Wanda describes her grief as something like the waves of the ocean. As soon as one wave passes over you may have some relief, but you know another wave is coming. Whoever wrote that has been through a season of grief and loss because it is right on the money. Vision responds with some gentle optimism that it can’t be all bad. He personally hasn’t known any loss because before he was a synthezoid he was merely a computer program and thus has always been alone. He’s never loved anyone to be able to lose someone. The fact of grief, though, means love had existed and that’s a good thing to hang onto. Then comes the line: “What is grief, if not love persevering.” I couldn’t not include a clip of the scene here because it’s that good.
I went back and watched that scene multiple times because it was so good. I may have even cried some. He’s right, of course. The writers absolutely nailed it and Paul Bettany could not have delivered a better performance (for which he absolutely deserved the Emmy over Ewan McGregor). Grief is the natural human response to the loss of something or someone loved. The deeper the love, the greater the grief. A powerful grief is a reflection of a powerful love that is persevering in spite of the absence of that love’s now former object.
So then, what does any of this have to do with Jesus’ weeping here in John 11? Well, why was He crying in the first place? The context of this brief statement of Jesus’ heartache is the death of His friend Lazarus. Lazarus had gotten sick. Really sick. As soon as they realized the gravity of the situation, Mary and Martha dispatched a messenger to wherever Jesus was staying at the time to tell Him to come back to Bethany quickly because Lazarus was going to die. He didn’t make it. What is of great interest in the moment, though, is that Jesus didn’t make it in part because He took His time to get there. When the news came, He stayed where He was for another whole day before leaving. He told the disciples that things were going to be okay which left them all thoroughly confused about the whole situation because when they arrived in Bethany Lazarus was already dead. It’s kind of tough to make that one okay.
When Jesus arrived, He was greeted by a deeply grieving Martha who threw in His face that if He had been there, Lazarus would still be alive. She held out what had to have seemed to her to be an irrational hope Jesus could still fix things, but this was surely her grief talking and not a reflection of what she really believed. The whole place was filled with people who were broken to pieces over Lazarus’ death. It would have been a tough scene to witness for anyone. Lazarus was obviously loved well by many. It was seeing Mary wrecked by grief that finally did Jesus in. John tells us that seeing her crying, “he was deeply moved in his spirit and troubled.” He asked where Lazarus had been buried and began weeping Himself as they took Him to the tomb.
Now, at a quick glance here, it seems like Jesus is sharing in the grief of His friends of the loss of this man they all loved so much. But if you think about it a second longer, and take in the rest of the story where Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, He couldn’t have been grieving over Lazarus’ passing because He knew before He came to town that He was going to raise him from the dead. So, what was it that made Jesus grieve?
Well, let’s go back to understanding what grief is. Grief is a natural response to loss. But Jesus hadn’t lost anything. Right? Yes and no. No, in the sense that Lazarus was not lost to Him. He was about to raise him from the dead and He knew it. But there are other kinds of losses. When someone we love is grieving a loss that we did not share in with them, there is a sense in which we have lost them to that grief, at least for a season. Jesus loved these people so much that even His momentarily losing them to their own deep grief was itself causing Him to grieve.
There’s more still. Jesus wasn’t just grieving this one, momentary loss even if it was the proximate cause of His weeping. This death was a poignant reminder of the terrible impact of sin on the world. Sin causes death, yes, but even more than that it causes a separation from God. Jesus was fully human, but He was also fully God. Sin was the thing that was separating Him from the people He loved so dearly. Lazarus’ death was a powerful reminder of the pain of loss He had been experiencing since the Fall because of the separation sin wrought between Him and us. Lazarus’ temporary resurrection was a symbol of the permanent resurrection He Himself would soon experience which would spark the beginning of the end of not only His own grief, but eventually of all grief for those willing to accept Him as Lord and live through His life. Because Jesus lives, there is a day coming when every tear will be wiped away. Neither will there be any grief, crying, or pain, because those old things will have passed away with the coming of the new age.
Jesus’ crying here was from grief. It was from grief because He loved deeply and His love was persevering. In fact, His love persevered until it conquered not only His grief, but all grief. He died to put death to death and rose to bring life to everyone. All you have to do is receive it. I hope you will.