The Shedding of Tears

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I once heard a young preacher argue that Christians should be so thoroughly sure of their redemption in Christ that no loss might ever result in tears.  While one could appreciate what he was trying to say; his message was naïve and ridiculous.  He was too young and healthy to appreciate the darkness that is both a part of the story of salvation and which is still attached to human nature.  There is no wrong or sin or betrayal of Christ in weeping.  Indeed, it signifies a profound and mysterious solidarity with Jesus Christ.  We read of few instances of emotion from Christ but those revealed in the Bible are telling.

He demonstrates righteous indignation or justified anger at the money-changers who had transformed the temple from a house of prayer to what he labeled as “a den of thieves.”  He turned over the tables of the money-changers to awaken them and the crown to what they had done.  The love that we are to have for our heavenly Father must be uncompromising.  This is the truth of this episode and is the first of the commandments.  Who is to say that there were not tears in the eyes of Jesus?  The religious leaders, who should have been the first to embrace him, reject him instead.  The temple in Jerusalem which was the focus of sacrifice and prayer— indeed a symbol of their identity as a people called by God— had been reduced to something crass and political.  I suspect he shed tears for those who shed none.  How could the sacred heart not lament the many cold and hardened hearts around him? Ours is a jealous God.  He will not share us. Neither should we compromise our devotion to him.  The two-fold commandment of Christ speaks both about this overwhelming love of God and how it cannot be contained but spills over in our love of neighbor.

The Bible makes it clear that Jesus wept when informed of the death of his dear friend Lazarus.  It is here that he most shares the tears of those who mourn.  Death was not the way things were supposed to be.  It entered our world because of sin.  And yet, Jesus was told that he was ill. Why did he not race to him?  Again, he is thinking about all of us.  Jesus did not come into the world to do parlor tricks; he came to save a people.  Death is real and in the face of human mortality we often feel weak and impotent.

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Demonstrating that he has the power over life and death, he will raise Lazarus back to life, a man four days dead in the tomb.  It has been suggested that here was another cause for the tears of Christ.  It is bad enough to die once; however, poor Lazarus would have to live and die again.  Once enough is bad enough.  Our Lord knew that this miracle would deprive Lazarus of a far more wondrous life, where there is joy and all tears are wiped away.  The third instance of weeping is simply appreciated in terms of the angst or agony of Christ in the garden before his betray and arrest.  He prays that if possible his Father might take this cup from him.  Jesus does not want to suffer torture and death.  None of us want pain and we similarly cling to life.  However, no sooner does he make his prayer, acknowledging the full reality of the incarnation and the human condition; he resolves as a divine person, his dedication to the mission given him by the Father— “not my will but thy will be done.”

St. Paulinus: “Why condemn the mourning of holy mortals?  Did not Jesus himself weep for Lazarus, whom he loved?  Did he not deign to commiserate our unhappiness so far as to shed tears over one that was dead?  Did he not, humbling himself to the level of human infirmity, weep for him whom he was about to raise to life by means of his divine virtue?  It is for this, O my brother (Pammachius who had lost his wife Paulina), that your tears are pious and holy; for a similar affection causes them to flow; and yet if you weep for a worthy and chaste companion, it is not that you have doubts of the resurrection, but it is that your love has its regrets and its desires” (St. Paulinus, Letter 11, No. 4, 5).

Inspired by and borrows from an old pamphlet entitled IN HEAVEN WE KNOW OUR OWN by Fr. Blot, S.J.

About Father Joe

Father Joe Jenkins I am the pastor of Holy Family Church and a Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC.
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