The shortest verse in Scripture is found in this coming Sunday’s Gospel passage about the resurrection of Lazarus. When Jesus arrived nearby the gravesite, the people of Bethany bid Jesus to come and see where his friend, the brother of Martha and Mary, was buried. Approaching Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus made no attempt to hide his regard for his dear friend. St. John writes tersely, “And Jesus wept.” That St. John should include this frankly human aspect of Jesus’ temperament is especially astounding. Jesus in St. John’s Gospel is always the master of the situation. When arrested, Jesus knocks his adversaries to the ground by a mere glance. Jesus holds his ground before the threatening Pontius Pilate when again St. John comments tersely, “Jesus however was silent.” St. John deliberately notes that when Jesus was on the road to Calvary, he was “carrying the cross for himself.”
There is no mention of Simon from Cyrene. No help was needed. So to note that Jesus wept at Lazarus’ tomb is a particularly insightful observation, especially when recorded by St. John whose tendency is much more to exalt the divinity of Christ rather than highlight the humanity of the man Jesus. Jesus’ close and familiar friendship with Martha, Mary and Lazarus, noted also by St. Luke, is truly expressive of a humanity not often associated with Jesus who is more often recalled as Lord and Master rather than as friend and colleague.
Bethany, the hometown of the two sisters and their brother, is a short distance from central Jerusalem. Jesus was welcomed there on a number of occasions. All three siblings made Jesus quite at home. “They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served, while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him. Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus* and dried them with her hair.” St. John makes no bones about the warm relationship Jesus had with his Bethany hosts: “Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.” St. Luke for his part relates a very folksy incident that reveals how close Jesus actually was to this family residing at Bethany.
Martha first of all “welcomed” Jesus into her home. She made him feel relaxed, comfortable, at ease.
She went to the trouble of making a meal for him, a generous meal that she could have used some help in preparing. Obviously, Martha knew Jesus well enough from previous meetings that she could complain about her sister’s indifference to all culinary demands. “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” These are not the words that a family member would utter before a stranger. Martha felt relaxed enough with Jesus to express some mild discontent with her sister’s neglect of the family’s entertainment responsibilities. Mary for her part also reveals a close, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, hanging on his every word, a posture very unusual for a woman in the ancient Palestinian world. Mary assumes the position of a disciple, eager to learn from the lips of the Master. Jesus’ closeness to this family is thus again underlined in the Gospel. And note also that Jesus does not object to Mary’s familiarity. In fact, Christ applauds her intimacy: “Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
It is easy to see in this situation not only Jesus’ affection for Mary and the warmth of his good hearted ribbing of Martha but also Jesus’ attitude toward women in general comes into focus. Jesus accepted all persons — friends but also foreigners, the well-to-do as well as the down-and-out. Jesus was and is still very approachable. Jesus is rightly exalted as Son of God throughout Scripture and as Second Person of the Blessed Trinity throughout Church doctrine. But the tears of Jesus evoked by the death of his friend Lazarus sharing the grief of the sisters Martha and Mary underline some other words of St. John that should never be neglected: “…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Jesus is indeed flesh and blood. He is a man like us in all things but sin. Christ is fully human in heart and soul. “The bruised reed he shall not break; the smoldering wick he shall not quench.” Jesus is sympathetic toward the believer’s every sorrow and supportive of the believer’s every joy. Any challenged Christian should be assured that a sympathetic Christ is present to raise his or her spirits as he raised Lazarus, to counsel the hesitant as he instructed Mary, and to placate the nervous as he smoothed over Martha’s anxious concerns. Indeed, “God is with us,” as one of Jesus’ most ancient titles, Emmanuel, reminds all believers, especially those believers who feel alone, bereft, friendless, or abandoned.