Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how He loved him!”

John 11:35-36

God created us to feel all the emotions. If we are never happy, if we never laugh, there is something wrong with that. We are built to laugh. We are also supposed to cry. If you go through a year and you don’t cry, there is something wrong with that. Jesus, in taking on our human nature, took on all of our emotions, as well. Just because we don’t see Jesus smiling in icons doesn’t mean that He never smiled. The twelve disciples that followed Jesus weren’t only students, they were friends. We know that He attended social engagements like the wedding of Cana. We know that He engaged in conversation in small groups and with individuals. We know that He got frustrated, such as when He turned over the tables in the temple because those in the temple were using it as a place of commerce instead of a place of worship. We know that He got angry because He castigated the Scribes and Pharisees on more than one occasion. We know that He had compassion, because He was drawn to the sick and to the downtrodden.

Today, we celebrate a day known as the “Saturday of Lazarus.” Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha, lived in Bethany, which was only a couple of miles from Jerusalem. The Jews made pilgrimages to Jerusalem for big religious feasts like Passover. Thousands upon thousands of them would descend on Jerusalem for a week, many staying with families in the area. When Jesus was in Jerusalem, he would stay with this family. Jesus planned to go to Jerusalem for the Passover, obviously knowing that this occasion of the Passover was also going to be His Passion, Crucifixion and eventually Resurrection. He even warned His disciples three times as they were going what was about to happen to Him.

When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, He could have rushed to see him. However, He decided to stay where He was for two more days. Jesus had raised other people from the dead, but those instances had been in smaller settings. Healing Lazarus at the time of the Passover would show very publicly the Messianic sign of raising the dead. It would also put into the consciousness of the people that resurrection from the dead was possible, so that when Jesus was resurrected eight days later, people would be able to comprehend such a thing.

The passing of Lazarus and Jesus’ human reaction to it raises a lot of questions, of course. Did Jesus intend for Lazarus to die (intentional will of God) or did He permit him to die (permissive will of God)? Did God (and does God) choose for anyone to die in the way that we do, or is every death by the permissive will of God? This is a hard question which I won’t attempt to answer. There are some hard questions for which there are no answers and that’s okay. If there were answers to everything, then there wouldn’t, and couldn’t be faith. Faith is when we believe without knowing all the answers. And for those who question the concept of faith, we put faith in so many things—we choose people to marry with limited knowledge and lots of faith (there are billions of people on earth, most people only date a few and then decide to marry, so marriage is based more on faith than on knowledge), we choose a college based more on faith (there are thousands of colleges, most potential students visit a handful before deciding where to go), we choose doctors based on faith (there are so many possibilities, we don’t explore all of them before choosing one). I digress. . .

Jesus came to Bethany being fully God and fully man. In His identity as God, He was going to make a miracle. In His identity as a man, He was grieving the loss of His friend. Jesus went to the tomb and wept. He wept for Lazarus. But He knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, so I believe He wept for more than that. He wept for Mary and Martha, His close friends who were in obvious pain. He probably wept for the entire concept of death, that this kind of pain touched every life multiple times. We’ve all had people die in our lives. Eventually we will all die. The tears of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus were tears of a man who lost a friend, and they were also, I believe, the tears of God for the fallenness of humanity that results in death. And maybe (my opinion), Jesus cried because He was moved that He would shortly rescue humanity from this sting and this prospect was daunting (His suffering) and amazing (the opportunity to conquer death and restore humanity).

In the full experience of life, we are meant to cry. We can cry from grief and pain, we can cry from happiness, we can cry from awe. But we are supposed to cry. I have been at many funerals where people, especially children, are told to stay strong and not cry, and where adults feel like they must be stoic and “take it” even as they are crumbling inside. If Jesus wept, then so can we. The Bible recounts two times when Jesus cried and they both had to do with death—the death of Lazarus, and a few days later, in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus would cry about His own impending death. It is perfectly okay to cry, when someone around us dies, and when we are in any kind of pain. Jesus shows us an example that it is okay to grieve.

Saint Paul writes in I Thessalonians 4:13 (the passage that we read at funerals) But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, what you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. It is critical to notice that St. Paul does not tell us that we cannot grieve, but rather to not grieve as others do who have no hope. We can grieve, whether it is loss of life, or loss of some other opportunity, or because of pain, or even because of awe, because we know that the overarching theme to life is a journey to the Kingdom of God where we shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 51:11)

Source of wisdom and foreknowledge, Christ, You still inquired of the neighbors of Martha in Bethany, O Lord. And You said, “Where have you laid beloved Lazarus?” Sympathetically You wept for Your friend four days dead. Then by Your word alone You raised him, as the Lord and Giver of Life, compassionate and benevolent. (Saturday of Lazarus, Orthros, Kathisma II, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes, from AGES Digital Chant Stand)

It’s okay to cry, even Jesus did!


Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced multiple books, you can view here:


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