And Jesus wept. (John 11:35)
As a Jesuit novice in the midst of the full Spiritual Exercises I was assigned a meditation on the story in John’s Gospel of the death of Lazarus. I was eager to get to the dramatic finish, but for some reason I could not get past verse 35 (which I later learned is the shortest verse in all of Scripture). Why did Jesus weep when he knew that in a few moments he would raise Lazarus and restore him to his grieving sisters? This question nagged at me through several meditations and beyond.
Over time, I began to understand that a consideration of a single verse can only bear fruit in the light of the whole of the Gospels. Here Jesus’ most persistent message is that I am called to love God through love of my neighbor. But, like the testing lawyer, I define neighbor to my own benefit.
Jesus places no such limits on the neighbor question. Jesus demands connection with all of God’s children. Jesus calls me to reach beyond the narrow confines of the acceptable to embrace the tax-collector, the sinner, the prostitute.
Jesus also warns that this path will frequently be hard, it will often be rocky, it will sometimes get thorny. Martha’s practical concern is valid; yes, there will be a stench, but it is the stench of my indifference. It is the corruption of my lack of connection.
Jesus makes clear that I cannot be reconciled until I recognize that I can only be connected to God through others. Lent gives me the strength to roll back the stone which separates me from love of all my neighbors. Lent calls me to deep reflection on the sheep and the goats in my life. When did I see You?
When I look at my phone, do I see the coltan dug by the hands of child slaves in Congo?
When I shop at the mega-store, do I see the poorly paid workers gathering the carts off the clock?
When I see some expressions of love do I exclude them from divine approval?
When I eat a salad, do I see the “illegals” who picked the low-priced ingredients?
When I vote to lower taxes, do I see the schoolchildren and elderly shut-ins who will not eat that day?
When I hear about a gun death do I determine if that life mattered?
When did I see You and not love you?
And Jesus still weeps.
Reflection by Jeffrey Harrison, SJ
Father Jeff Harrison, SJ, teaches history at Regis Jesuit High School in Denver.