It’s perhaps best known as an answer to a trivia question: What is the shortest Bible verse?
It’s found in this Sunday’s Gospel reading: “And Jesus wept.” People who reflect and preach on the pericope of the raising of Lazarus often rightly point to this verse as indicative of Jesus’s humanity. Even the crowd that has gathered that day remark on the love that Jesus must have felt for His friend.
But do they miss what’s really going on?
Jesus has just encountered the sister of Lazarus, Mary, and other Jews who had come to mourn with her. The passage says Jesus is “perturbed” and “deeply troubled” at seeing them. He asks to visit the tomb, and then weeps.
Certainly this passage is about many things: resurrection foreshadowed, messianic power, and the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ, to name a few. But when someone identifies the weeping of Jesus as evidence of His humanity, as evidence that He shared our human experiences completely (except our sinfulness), that’s where I think something important is overlooked.
I do believe Jesus was sad at His friend’s death — though He also seems to delay His trip to visit His at-the-time ill friend on purpose, and seems to know before He departs to travel to him that Lazarus has already died. What is it then that brings Jesus to tears?
I believe it’s empathy at witnessing his sister’s and the other’s mourning — seeing and hearing their tears and grief. It’s empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of someone else. While there are more and more studies that suggest certain animals show, for instance, consolation, there is no doubt that humans by far are the most capable of empathy.
It’s so important that Jesus experienced empathy — in that it would make sense for God to choose for our salvation to become like us in almost every way.
And this same Jesus calls us to empathy today: to understand the plight of refugees fleeing war and destruction, to sense the anxiety of those whose healthcare is more expensive than they can afford, to feel the hunger of someone who depends on the kindness of others every day for their daily bread…or simply to share the sadness of someone who has lost a loved one, or who is having a bad day, or who just needs someone to listen to their frustrations.
“And Jesus wept.” It’s more than just trivia – it’s an important part of who we are and who Jesus was (and is), and it’s our connection to something truly divine.