Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
May 19th, 2014 by Joel Watts

Reading “Jesus Wept” via Plutarch’s Cato the Younger

c. 1500-1510

c. 1500-1510 (Photo credit: Wikipedia), “Brains…brains… haha, jk/lol… I’m baaaacccckkkkkk”

John 11.35 is one of my favorite, if not the favorite, bible verses. Simply, “Jesus wept.”

We know the story well. Jesus was summoned by Mary and Martha to come and heal their dying brother, Lazarus. Jesus at first refused to go, but after knowing that “he had fallen asleep,” Jesus and his disciples finally went.

After arriving, Jesus met with the little faith of the sisters, and their anger. He broke down and wept. Why? Often interpreters suggest this was because of the little faith. I believe it helps us to focus on the humanity of Jesus. Here, perhaps because of exhaustion, or maybe even something about self-arrogance, Jesus broke down and wept for the death of his friend. He knew it wasn’t everlasting and knew he would bring Lazarus back. Yet, he wept.

While reading Plutarch’s Cato the Younger, 11, I happened on a passage that was familiar. Remember, Cato is writing in part to correct the myths swirling about Cato while creating a myth himself. When Cato’s brother was dying, he took a boat and few friends to race towards him, but encountering a storm, was slowed.

He narrowly escaped drowning, and by some unaccountable good fortune came safe to land, but Caepio had just died. In bearing this affliction Cato was thought to have shown more passion than philosophy, considering not only his lamentations, his embracings of the dead, and the heaviness of his grief, but also his expenditure upon the burial, and the pains that he took to have incense and costly raiment burned with the body, and a monument of polished Thasian marble costing eight talents constructed in the market-place of Aenus.

For some people cavilled at these things as inconsistent with Cato’s usual freedom from ostentation, not observing how much tenderness and affection was mingled with the man’s inflexibility and firmness against pleasures, fears, and shameless entreaties.

I am further convinced that the mention of Jesus weeping is not about meeting the lack of faith, but about his humanity. We are called to focus, in the one Gospel proclaiming the highest of Christologies, on the lowly and weak humanity of Jesus. He cried for his friend, for his brother.

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Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).


2 Responses to “Reading “Jesus Wept” via Plutarch’s Cato the Younger”
  1. That Jesus wept is proof that for God human death in this world is real, and meaningful, and worthy of grieving. Even though Lazerus would be revived in moments, he would one day die a human death and in his passing something would be lost, something worth tears. So too with Jesus the man.

  2. “When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled,”… Empathy for Mary and the weeping Jews. Not for Lazarus. The dead guy isn’t feeling pain. And it isn’t a loss for Jesus. In theory, he can see Lazarus anytime he wants. Couldn’t be a lack of faith, otherwise he’d be crying every time he hangs out with the unbelieving disciples. He’d be crying all the time.

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