Picture: cc Phil Warren
My dear friends, have you ever come across a grown person weeping? Perhaps a spouse or a sibling. A friend or a colleague. How do you react? What do you do? How do you feel? I’m not sure about you, but I have to confess that my typical first reaction is to do one of two things. The first is to avoid the person. I may tell myself that he/she needs to be left alone. Given space to let it all out, without feeling embarrassed.
But, if avoidance is not possible, the second typical reaction is to try to figure out and to solve the problem. Whatever it is that’s making the person cry. Of course, this isn’t always possible. For example, the person may be crying because a loved one is stricken with terminal cancer. No way for me to solve that. What to do? Well, the next best thing, it seems, is to give advice. I may tell the person to seek a second medical opinion. Or look on the bright side. Or pray. Pray to God. Pray to Mary. Pray to St. Jude, the patron saint of desperate cases. Go for a healing service…
Of course, in my quieter moments, I realise why I react like this. Why I choose either to avoid or to solve the problem. Both reactions are born of the same thing: my own discomfort. For some reason tears make me uncomfortable. Avoidance and problem-solving or advice-giving are just my ways of dealing with the discomfort. And, by doing this, by acting only out of my own discomfort, I fail to pay proper attention to the one weeping.
To actually pay attention to the one who is weeping. To simply be present to the person as he/she weeps. To allow the person to choose to be silent or to speak. To be open enough even to feel whatever it is the person may be feeling. In other words to first be willing to accompany and to be affected by the person. That’s the challenge I face whenever I encounter someone weeping. The challenge first to listen and to feel. To accompany and to be affected. Before deciding what other actions to take.
This seems also to be the challenge posed to us by our Mass readings today. For here too, we find people weeping. In particular, we find Jesus himself weeping. What is our reaction to this? How do we feel? What do we do? Again, perhaps the temptation for me is to allow my discomfort to get the better of me. Causing me to avoid the weeping. Or to problem-solve. To simply ignore the tears. Or to try to distract myself from them. But what happens when I actually pay attention? What happens when I allow myself to be affected by the tears? These are the questions that help me reflect more deeply on our readings. To penetrate the profound mystery that they contain.
What happens when we remain with Jesus, the Word-Made-Flesh and Splendour-of-the-Father, the Son-of-God and Son-of-Mary, as he weeps at the tomb of his friend Lazarus? Very likely, we will each have different initial reactions. Mine is strangely one of puzzlement. There is something I don’t understand. Something I want to ask the One weeping. The question is why? Why are you weeping, Lord? The gospel tells us that you experience great distress, when you see the tears of Mary and her companions. And that this distress moves you to shed tears at the tomb. And yet, don’t you know already that you are about to raise your friend to life? In fact, didn’t you deliberately delay your arrival at Bethany by two days? Presumably to allow Lazarus to die, so that you might raise him up again? Why then do you weep? What is the true cause of your grief?
I can’t be sure, sisters and brothers, but when I address this question to the Lord, he seems to invite me to find the answer in the rest of our readings. Through the first reading, he reminds me that it is not just individual persons who die. That there is a kind of death that afflicts whole peoples as well. The kind that afflicted the people to whom the prophet Ezekiel was sent. A people in exile. Far from God. A people who seem to be alive. But whom God considers dead. As dead as a bunch of bones, strewn out in the open, and dried by the scorching sun. It is to these dry bones, this dead people, that God’s promise in the first reading is addressed: I am going to raise you from your graves, my people…. I shall put my spirit in you, and you will live…
But what exactly does this kind of death look and feel like? Does it afflict only the people of long ago? Or does it not also afflict us as well. We the people of this modern day? We who seem so very much alive. More alive than any of our ancestors ever were. We who enjoy the benefits of science and technology. Which enable us to live longer and healthier than ever before.
And yet, the second reading reminds us that to truly be alive is not just a matter of carrying out the biological functions of breath and digestion, of movement and thought. But to be able somehow to please God. And we’re told that people who are interested in unspiritual things can never be pleasing to God. People whose attention is focused only on the mechanics of daily living. However important these may be. People whose every waking moment is occupied by thoughts of eating and drinking. Of buying and selling. Of work and entertainment. People whose lives have become so painfully empty and so desperately dry. Without them even realising it. People whose self-centredness have gradually made them lose the capacity to feel, to truly feel, the pain of others. To be moved, as Jesus was moved, to accompany those who suffer. To be affected by the sorrows of another.
Could it be that it is also for all these spiritually dead people, among whom I may include myself? Could it be that it is also for them, for me, that Jesus weeps? Could it be that it is my suffering that causes the Lord to be moved to the very depths of his being. Causing him to experience deep distress. And to sigh. And to cry. And not just to cry. But also, soon after, to climb up that lonely hill called Calvary. And there to lay down his life on a cruel Cross, that I may live. May truly live, to the full, the life he calls me to live. The life in God’s Spirit. The life of love and joy and peace in the sight of God and of God’s people.
And while Jesus may have been confident that Lazarus would respond when he called to him. Perhaps the Lord is as yet unsure of how the rest of us will respond. Of how I will respond when he calls me out. Perhaps he knows quite well that there will be some who will refuse to come forth. Those who, having become so accustomed to the darkness, will actually be reluctant to walk into the light. Will choose to cling to selfish concerns, instead of coming to the Lord, and reaching out to those in need.
Isn’t this why we continue with our Lenten discipline? Which is fast coming to a close. Isn’t this why you, the Elect, are celebrating your 3rd and final scrutiny today? We prepare our hearts to respond ever more courageously and generously to the Lord, as he calls us from darkness to light. From death to life.
My dear friends, there is Someone among us who stands before us weeping. He weeps not just for Lazarus. But also for us. For you and for me. How will you respond to his call today?