Fr. Manuel João, comboni missionary
Sunday Reflection
from the womb of my whale, ALS
Our cross is the pulpit of the Word

God weeps too!

Year A – Lent – 5th Sunday
John 11:1-45

The gospel of the fifth (and last) Sunday of Lent has Lazarus as its protagonist, after the Samaritan woman and the man born blind of the two previous Sundays. It is the third baptismal catechesis, on LIFE, after those on water and light. This gospel tells us about the resurrection of Lazarus of Bethany, brother of Martha and Mary and friend of Jesus. It is the seventh “sign” (miracle) of John’s gospel, the most portentous one, which acts as a hinge between the first and second part of his gospel. Easter is now near and we are invited to meditate on this great sign, a prophecy of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

I invite you to personally reread the entire eleventh chapter of John and its natural continuation, up to 12:11, in order to grasp some of the richness of his message. And, also, to remind us how it all ends: the leaders deciding to kill Jesus and Lazarus.

I will only share with you a reflection on Jesus’ weeping.

The price of friendship

This page of the gospel reveals to us the profound humanity of Jesus. A man like us, he had friends and cultivated friendships. The house of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, in the village of Bethany, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, was for him – a homeless man – an oasis of peace and rest. There he felt at home, in his family. “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus”. On the strength of this friendship, when Lazarus fell ill, the two sisters sent word to him: “Lord, behold, he whom you love is sick”. But the Friend did not hurry! He set out on the third day, not to heal, but to resurrect: “Lazarus, our friend, has fallen asleep; but I go to wake him up”. The apostles rightly reminded him that he was a wanted man in Judea. Actually, Jesus could have healed his friend even from afar, as he did with the centurion’s servant (Luke 7). But friendship requires physical proximity and so Jesus risks his life for Lazarus. In fact, this move will be fatal to him.

The encounter with Martha, first, and Mary, later, is moving. Both, veiledly and sadly, reproach Jesus for his delay: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!” In front of Martha, Jesus manages to control his emotion, but when he sees Mary weeping, he breaks down: he is deeply moved and in front of his friend’s tomb, he bursts into weeping, sobbing, that those present exclaim: “Look how he loved him!” His is a cry of love and sadness, but not one of resignation. On the contrary, his are tears of anger before death, the most terrible of injustices, which God did not want for his children (Wisdom 2:24). In fact, a little later, still with his face wet with tears, he cries out: “Lazarus, come out!”. The Greek verb used here by John (kraugazein, to shout in anger) is very rare in the Greek Bible. It is found only eight times, including six in John, and is the same verb used for those who, a few days later, cry out for Jesus’ crucifixion.

A community of brothers and sisters

Do we recognise ourselves in this story? We have experienced this situation many times. Look, here we are talking about three people who are brothers and sisters. There is no mention of spouses and children. This anomaly should make us reflect. It is not so much about a single family as it is about the relationship of brotherhood in the Christian community, all brothers and sisters (John 15:15). Lazarus is each and every one of us in our frailty, particularly in the face of death. Martha and Mary are us, when we weep “with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). What does Jesus do? He weeps with us! God weeps with us! And he is the only one who, now in Jesus, can truly weep with us because, as God, he knows our pain to the depths.

If there are golden bowls in heaven that collect the prayers of the saints (Revelation 5:8), I dare to think that there are also those that collect our tears. None shall be shed in vain! For the Psalmist says, “My tears in thy wineskin thou gatherest; are they not written in thy book?” (Psalm 56). “All human sorrows, for God, are sacred” (Pope Francis, 14.10.2020).

In the Bible, a river of tears

Weeping abounds in Holy Scripture. A river of tears runs through it. Its source is born in the eyes of our forefathers Adam and Eve, often presented weeping in paintings, after being expelled from paradise. It is a long river that grows and swells until it becomes a raging river in the Psalms. The Messiah was supposed to dry up this river (Isaiah 25:8). Jesus, however, disregards this hope. On the contrary, he turns weeping into blessing (Matthew 5). He, a man like us, also weeps and feeds this river (Hebrews 5:7), directing it, however, towards the heart of the Father. “He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, nor mourning, nor crying, nor pain” (Revelation 21:4).


Could it be that God became incarnate in order to weep with us? David Maria Turoldo asks: “But you had no tears / to us instead it was given / to weep. / Did this perhaps drive you among us?”.

Could it be that this gospel invites us to a change of mentality with regard to God? To a “passage from the God of ‘easy miracles’ to the God who ‘weeps with you'” (Don Angelo Casati)?

“Since that 14th of Nisan in the year 30 A.D., we can no longer say, when grief grips us: ‘Lord, if you had been here…’. Because by now he is always here: he does not have to “come”, because he has never left and he has never stopped being here – as he promised – “every day”, he has never ceased to love us, he is weeping with us, he has already begun to resurrect us” (Monsignor Francesco Lambiasi).

Fr. Manuel João, comboni missionary
Castel d’Azzano (Verona) 24th March 2023