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Why did Jesus Cry? – The Humanity of Jesus

When your day is long

And the night

The night is yours alone

When you’re sure you’ve had enough

Of this life

Well hang on

Don’t let yourself go

‘Cause everybody cries

And everybody hurts sometimes.[1]

Sometimes things land just right. They hit you in just the right way, at just the right time, so that things end up going just right. One day, Bill Berry, of the legendary Athens band R.E.M., walked into a studio and played a song for his bandmates. The song didn’t have a bridge or a chorus and sounded kind of country and western, a departure from the band’s normal sound. But the lyrics, what lyrics Bill had, were very straightforward and aimed at a target audience: teenagers. The song “started out as a song to comfort “younger people”, and the attempt to make it accessible to someone “who hasn’t been to college” has made it applicable in all kinds of situations” and co-writer Peter Buck said, “…trying to reach a 17-year-old and say, ‘it’s OK – things are tough but they get better’” involved economy and directness – and that universality automatically means the song is picked up on by other people.”[2]

After the song’s release, the band’s lead singer, Michael Stipe, said,

“The number of times that people have said, ‘You saved my life,’ or ‘the song was there at a time when I really needed it, thank you’…That’s bigger and better than anything anyone could say to me, [that] something that we did had a positive impact on their life in a moment of great need, or a moment when they needed something like that and it was there. So that makes me really happy. There’s so many of these songs that either are very overtly or kind of quietly speaking to the island of broken toys. It’s the people that are, for whatever reason, outsiders –- people that feel like they don’t fit in, in one way or another, those songs are there for them. Those are my people. You know, the songs are for us.”[3]

I think the message in Everybody Hurts is a message we can carry into the sermon today as we look at John 11. The story is one of the more famous stories in the gospels as Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, although one commentator also said it could be called “The Confession of Martha (with a little help from Mary).”[4] For the most part we know the story. Jesus is asked to come heal his friend Lazarus. Jesus waits a few days before leaving to go. Lazarus dies. Martha makes a claim of Jesus power as a healer and says even now, Lazarus could be healed. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead and there is a bandage unwrapping party with a pot-luck following in their version of a fellowship hall.

But someone asked me a question about this passage that also relates to the one about Jesus weeping over Jerusalem in Luke 19:41: why did Jesus weep? Why did Jesus show the kind of emotion he did at these two events and most likely, at various other times in his life. We could also ask the question, why did he celebrate with the wedding party in Cana or why did Jesus feed the five thousand or why did Jesus allow the little children to hang out and play while he was around? All these questions have at least one aspect to them that leads to one answer.

Jesus was human.

This is a pretty deep subject though the question seems quite simple. The question is wrapped up in how we view Jesus through the lenses of Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience as the church. It is a question that plagued the early church for most of the first four hundred years of its existence: How human was Jesus and how divine was Jesus? Did one overshadow the other?

The question was settled as church doctrine at the Council of Nicaea in 325 when it was declared that Jesus of Nazareth was of “one substance with God the Father in heaven”, a statement that defined Jesus as “being one with God”.[5] But today I want to focus on the other aspect of Jesus that often is forgotten in worship settings. We are quick to worship the one who is one with God but sometimes not so quick to remember his humanity. John Sanford, a psychologist and Catholic priest writes,

“This is no Docetic Christ,” – a heresy that said Jesus just seemed to be a human being but was really completely divine – “but a real human being, with all the range of human emotions, although at the same time he is the Deity who is a God of heart and compassion for the sufferings of his children.”[6]

In other words, Jesus was fully, completely human, who felt what human beings felt. He felt tiredness, thirst, pain, the full range of what we all feel. [7] This humanity lead Jesus in the story of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus to experience what anyone else would experience at the death of a friend – sadness, pain, anguish – all “generated by his love…”[8] As we consider the way the story unfolds, this is obvious.

Met by Jesus, both sisters weep, and Jesus joins them in their mourning. This is no insignificant detail. The Johannine Jesus — the Word from before time, one with the Father, ever in-control — is overcome by grief. The one who is the resurrection and the life, the one who (we can only presume) knows that he will soon call the dead man from the tomb, weeps for his beloved Lazarus. He is so moved that some in the crowd exclaim: “See how he loved him!”[9]

We are reminded in this story that God – through Jesus – joined our human experience of loss and death.[10] He hurt, just as they did. He cried, not so much for Lazarus, but for the sisters who had lost their brother and the pain they felt. This doctrinal idea of Jesus humanity is to me, a beautiful opportunity in how we experience the Way of Jesus. It is a means of saying that we should feel what we feel because those are God-given emotions. We are made to be emotional beings, made to be angry, sad, frustrated, confused, joyous, contemplative, excited, peaceful, and the entire gamut of feelings that human beings can feel. Why? Because they are the emotions that Jesus felt in his humanity, emotions that are shared between us and Jesus. Hebrews 4:14-15 in the Message Bible says,

Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin.

In short, Jesus wept, both at Lazarus tomb and overlooking Jerusalem, because he loves, and he hurts, and he feels as we feel. Jesus’ emotions were no different than ours in that respect and that should be something we take comfort in. The Living Word, the living embodiment of God on earth, knows what you feel, what you can feel because he feels it too. And not just in some vague, distant sense but in the very real, very connected sense of our humanity.

Take comfort in that. Take comfort and share that comfort with others who need to be cheered up or cheered on. He’s been there. He knows.


References

Athanasius. “Athanasius on the Two Natures of Christ.” In The Christian Theology Reader, by Alistar E. McGrath, 267-268. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2007.

Hefele D.D., Charles. A History of the Councils of the Church, Vol. 1. San Bernadino: Veritatis Splendor Publications, 2014.

Sanford, John A. Mystical Christianity: A Psychological Commentary on the Gospel of John. New York: Crossroads Publishing, 2000.


[1] Berry, Bill; Buck, Peter; Mills, Mike; Stipe, Michael. Everybody Hurts. Woodstock, NY: Warner Bros., 1991

[2] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8481221.stm

[3] https://www.npr.org/sections/allsongs/2017/11/02/561368442/r-e-m-reflects-on-25-years-of-automatic-for-the-people

[4] https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1457

[5] (Hefele D.D. 2014, pp.352-354)

[6] (Sanford 2000, p.225)

[7] (Athanasius 2007, p.267)

[8] https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1457

[9] https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3404

[10] ibid

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