Years’ ago we Brits didn’t cry – or at least not in public. However, a survey of some 2000 adults earlier this year has shown that younger men today are killing the traditional British stiff upper lip by increasingly crying in public. To my amazement the survey has revealed that modern British men will cry in front of others 30 times a year on average; and that they spend a total of one hour and ten minutes a year weeping. The survey found that, the loss of a loved one apart, the top reason Brits shed a tear today is watching an emotional scene on television.
The Australian poet, Les Murray, wrote a poem entitled An Ordinary Rainbow, which is about a “a fellow crying in Martin Place – No one can stop him”
The man we surround, the man no one approaches
Simply weeps and does not cover it, weeps
Not like a child, not like the wind, like a man
And does not declaim it, nor beat his breast, nor even
Sob very loudly – yet the dignity of his weeping
Holds us back from his space, the hollow he makes about him
In the midday light, in his pentagram of sorrow
And uniforms back in the crowd who tried to seize him
Stare out at him, and feel, with amazement, their minds
Longing for tears as children for a rainbow.”
Les Murray is a Roman Catholic, and some have suggested that “the fellow crying in Martin Place” represents Jesus. I don’t know. But certainly Jesus was not embarrassed to weep.
In the New Testament we find there were three occasions when Jesus wept. Luke tells us that Jesus wept over Jerusalem: ‘If you, even you, had only recognised on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognise the time of your visitation from God” (Luke 19.41-44). The NRSV heads this section: ‘Lament over Jerusalem’. Fred Craddock commented: “A lament is a voice of love and profound caring, of vision of what could have been and of grief over its loss, of tough hope painfully releasing the object of its hope, of personal responsibility and frustration, of sorrow and anger mixed, of accepted loss but with energy enough to go on” (Luke 229).
Luke also records the occasion when Jesus wept in the Garden of Gethsemane: “In great anguish he prayed even more fervently; his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22.44). Although Luke does not actually say “Jesus wept”, it is generally assumed that the writer to the Hebrews was referring to this incident when he wrote: “In his life on earth Jesus made his prayers and requests with loud cries and tears to God” (Hebs 5.7). Is it significant, I wonder, that some ancient MSS omit Luke 22.44. It was too embarrassing. It just did not seem to fit in with their idea of the Son of God sharing in the omnipotence of the Father.
Probably the most famous occasion when Jesus was wept was after the death of his friend Lazarus. John tells us: “Jesus saw her [Mary] weeping, and he saw how the people who were with her were weeping also; his heart was touched, and he was deeply moved” (John 11.33). In fact, he was so moved, that he ended up crying too. “Jesus wept” (11.35) says John – the shortest verse in the Bible. There has been much discussion as to why Jesus wept. Was it because of grief for Lazarus? Almost certainly not. Jesus had already said that “this illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory” (11.4). Jesus then went to his tomb to call him from it, not to weep beside it. Although it is possible that the tears were motivated by the unbelief that caused him anger, it is perhaps more likely that they were brought about by the sight of the havoc wrought among people through sin and death in this world. If his tears were “in sorrow at the sense of desolation and loss that death brought to those who were still in the dark about the future life”, then “this story assures us that Jesus understands and cares about human sorrow” (Gordon Bridger). Jesus wept. Here we have a reminder that Jesus was no ‘automaton’. Jesus knew what it was like to be sad. As the writer to the Hebrews reminds us, Jesus became like us “in every way (2.17) – he can “feel sympathy for our weaknesses” (2.15).