And Jesus wept.
When did we forget that? Maybe because it’s so short. Even the “longer” version of John 11:35 above, with the conjunction, is still two characters less than 1 Chronicles 1:25.
Maybe because it doesn’t match with what leaders want. In this election season, I read about bishops and cardinals advising about voting. I checked my Bible, then to be safe I checked a online source. Only two of the 23 translations contained the word “abortion”, and in both cases a person was describing himself. In case you’re wondering, they are
Job 3:16 in Young’s Literal Translation, and
1 Corinthians 15:8 in The Darby Translation. The word “democracy” never appears. Homosexuality appears once in the New Testament, in a list of sexual sins in 1 Corinthians 6. If I counted correctly, the word “wept” appears 53 times in the NIV. Of course, “slave” appears over 100 times, so counting’s not the best metric.
Maybe because American society is conditioned to abhor emotions, particularly weakness. I photographed this poster at the Heard Museum in an exhibit on Indian Schools. As part of the civilization process of the Indian, they were taught proper white manners. The good Puritans decided that emotion was wrong, and since America still runs on Puritan emotions, very little has changed.
I saw a little story in the Chicago Tribune about crying. According to the article, women average 5.3 cries per month, while men slide in at 1.4. That’s not very much. Apparently the poster was quite effective. English professor Tom Lutz wrote a history of tears, and he noted that tears are often a sign of submission. “Since women are conditioned to be more subservient than men, they are `allowed’ to cry more often.” That sentence is miserable on so many levels.
Maybe because we don’t know how to respond. The gospel writer gives a balanced account; some of the Jews remark on the relationship and passion, while others critique him for not doing anything. Many people, particularly men, look at tears with shame. Crying’s OK in a very small set of situations: having a broken leg, losing the Super Bowl, and a parent’s funeral. Beyond that, it’s embarassment and weakness. A lot of other people just freeze up, since crying is not a very common sight in public or semipublic company. That’s usually not deer in headlights bad, but definitely disturbing and confusing. Moving up, a small group wants to become mechanics, finding the source of the pain then eliminating it to stop the tears. It’s very few that can console, the right combination of emotion and words and touch to aid and heal.
Ten years ago, I was working my school job, inserting security strips into library books and magazines. One of the full-time workers was crying; the prior evening had been a bad meeting between her and her ex [husband, I think.] The other office worker that day was trying to be consoling. I had the frozen look, so I just piled up books. At one point, the crier looked up and asked something like “I must look really pathetic, huh?” I failed. I managed to say something decent, but wound up going back to filing and organizing. That led to a search. I studied; I read; I queried those who listened; I tried to learn to feel and console. I’ve shown sympathetic tears, and have been called a good listener. Am I good enough?
About a week ago, I was walking with someone who had some bad days, between autumn allergies and the constant drain and depression of this university. (It doesn’t surprise me that recruiters constantly say University of Chicago students don’t smile.) When she started crying, I knew what the response should be, but I wasn’t aggressive enough; I should have jumped in with kindness and maybe held her, but instead I mumbled platitudes and kept conversational distance. She said goodbye and turned down the street. Again I failed.
I can’t call this a catastrophic mistake; I made a real attempt, and certainly did better than the time at 19. Yet it’s still not enough. I claim to give compassion and mercy, to try to understand the emotion. To try to understand tears and suffering. To not forget that Jesus wept.