“Jesus wept” (John 11:35).
It is an oft quoted verse, especially by students asked to share a scripture in seminary or Sunday School class. This fact alone might make it, perhaps, one of the best known scriptures in the church, but otherwise it gets little attention. It should not be so. In those two simple words are embodied a wealth of instruction for past and current disciples of Jesus Christ.
And as scriptures are often improved when given some context and background, that is where we will begin.
When we turn to John 11 , in the we find Jesus actively engaged in his public ministry, preaching the principles of his gospel and healing the sick. In Bethany, a city two miles from Jerusalem, lived three of Jesus’ devoted disciples, and “Jesus loved Martha, and her sister (Mary), and Lazarus” (John 11:5).
When Lazarus sickens and his condition worsens, his sisters send a message to the Savior alerting him of their brother’s illness, undoubtedly hoping Jesus will come and heal him. However, when the message arrives, the Savior not only fails to go but intentionally delays his departure. After two days he announces to his disciples, “Lazarus is dead,” followed by, “And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe” (John 11:14-15). They do not understand his words but shortly his acts will clarify his meaning.
Only at this point does Jesus Christ make his way, without haste, to Bethany. By the time he arrives, Lazarus has been dead four days and has been laid in his tomb.
Martha, upon learning of Jesus’ arrival, hurries to meet him and, “Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee” (John 11:21-22).
Jesus’ response comforts but is not wholly comprehended by her. “Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world” (John 11:23-27).
Martha’s devotion, her faith and testimony that Jesus is the Christ is remarkable. She takes comfort knowing her brother will rise in the first resurrection. But Christ is speaking of much more than this. He is in Bethany to show those with hearts open to believe that he has power over death, that he is the son of God, will become the firstfruits of the resurrection, and that ONLY “of him and by him and through him” is salvation realized.
Martha hurries home to tell her sister of Jesus’ arrival. Mary “arose quickly, and came unto him," falling at Jesus’ feet “weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her.” When Jesus observes her grief, “he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled.” Feeling compassion for his beloved disciple, “Jesus wept” (John 11:29-35).
Jesus will soon raise Lazarus from the dead, leading many to recognize him as the Son of God and others, lacking faith, to turn away.
But there is a second lesson here when we consider that everything Jesus did in life was done with a purpose. And this time he is also challenging culturally constructed gender roles. The Savior of the world, and not on this occasion alone, openly weeps. His simple act validates and legitimizes men who feel and express emotion.
In today’s world, gender often dictates that women act as nurturers, are kind and tender, are weak and emotional. Men are compelled to be strong, tough, unemotional, assertive and forceful. The world is suspicious of men who publicly cry or who show emotion. These are, of course, generalities that do not apply in all communities and all situations. But such views are widespread.
Jesus Christ presents a stark contrast. He is compassionate, caring, nurturing, considerate and yet he is also strong and capable. He cries and he does so without apology on a number of occasions. We have to consider why “Jesus wept,” and what he intends us to understand.
Perhaps his message is a redefinition of what is truly appropriate “manly” behavior. Indeed, Christ would have all his disciples, male and female, be kind, compassionate, caring and strong. He would have us “bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light mourn with those that mourn comfort those that stand in need of comfort” and in this way, “stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may have eternal life” (Mosiah 18:8-9).
While the world grows more hardened and impenitent, Christ exemplifies kindness, compassion and charity. He enjoins both men and women to mourn and to weep, as “Jesus wept,” and in this way become true disciples of Christ.
Kristine Frederickson writes on issue-oriented topics that affect members of the LDS Church worldwide in her column “LDS World."