In 1944 our mother married our father, a fresh seminary graduate and moved with him from Ohio to eastern Montana. She was twenty-two, bright, pretty, and funny. Besides her upbringing in a loving, pious, church-going family, she probably knew little about what her role as a minister’s wife would entail.
At her first ladies aid society meeting she found out that they started each session by having everyone recite a Bible verse. Taken unaware, she quoted the shortest one she knew, “Jesus wept.”
Perhaps the stress of the moment blocked her memory of anything else. Maybe she didn’t know that many verses. After all, it had been years since her Confirmation as an eighth-grader when memorization of Bible verses was a weekly requirement. Or, perhaps her playful nature just took over.
I can imagine the reaction. The brief words didn’t quite meet the mark. Maybe there were a few giggles, maybe some murmurs of disapproval, a rolling of eyes.
I try to picture our father, the young, thin, bespectacled, pastor, his hair swept back in a pompadour. New to his first church, standing before those pious ladies, most, if not all, older than him and certainly older than our mother. I imagine he was a little shocked; probably embarrassed.
Perhaps they would later have words. Our mother might have wept as well. In their loneliness out there on those Montana prairies did they make-up? Make love? Was that the night their first child, our older brother was conceived?
Although our father repeated the story often (probably the shortest one he ever told), we don’t have any of those details. In each retelling, nested in a long string of other stories, he would still shake his head in disbelief.
I thought of that short verse and the story this last Thursday. It was Maundy Thursday, the night where the verse refers to Jesus as he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, the night before his crucifixion.
Growing up as the daughter of a minister, I often say my theological training and my theological questioning began early. There was a lot of weeping along the way. While I am an ardent believer in the teachings of Jesus, I struggle with the institutional interpretations and distortions.
In my early twenties, during the early seventies, my move into “Liberation Theology” with its view of a radical Jesus who stood for social justice was strongly influenced by the musicals, Jesus Christ, Superstar and Godspell. It was then that I first pictured Jesus, not as an old man, but as an older brother. I identified with this radical young man who stood up for the poor and the disempowered. Who stood up against the powers that be. I pictured him and his small group of friends out there every day challenging the status quo, threatening the greed of the money changers, protesting the disregard for the lepers. Countering the empire philosophy of Roman as he advocated for the peacemakers.
Although the verse, “Jesus wept,” only occurs once in the Bible, I picture Jesus weeping a lot. How frustrating his work was. Telling a violent, military occupied world to love one another, to do good to those who hate you. Telling the wealthy to sell all they have and give the money to the poor. Imagine his “press coverage.” Who was this nut? The Kingdom of Heaven was for the children?
He must have wept after the countless rallies, wondering if people really understood his message. His challenging encounters with the leaders of the Jewish society. After a day of dealing with the need for all sorts of healing. The Sermon on the Mount must have moved him to tears as well.
That night in the garden must have been a real melt-down. Even his friends, his beloved disciples didn’t seem to get it.
I wonder how much weeping Jesus would have done seeing the distortion and perversion of his words in future theological discussions. The things that are ascribed to him and the ideas that are neglected. The using of Christianity to justify so much horror and disaster in the building of empire.
Good Friday this year, was also Earth Day. Surely he would weep over the horrendous destruction of God’s creation.
Tears for the greed, the wanton consumption, the waste of resources and human potential. The violence against humanity and the cultures build on war.
Jesus would be in Washington, D.C. this week, weeping as money is stripped from the budget, taken from the poor, the sick, the elderly. From children’s education and the protection of the earth. Money channeled in the perpetuation of corporate greed and war.
But Jesus didn’t just weep. He poured his heart and soul out and then he woke his sleeping disciples and went out to face his enemies and his death.
I recently did a meditation based around a series of portraits painted by Robert Shetterly. They are collected under the theme Americans Who Tell the Truth. As I was inspired by this succession of lives, from Chief Joseph to Howard Zinn. From Sojourner Truth to Amy Goodman, I thought about the pain they all must have felt. The loneliness of being prophets of truth. The frustration of trying to get their messages across. I thought about them weeping.
When our mother uttered that short verse, “Jesus wept,” she didn’t recognize the power of those words. What it our father had said, “yes! Let us take a moment to also weep.” My God, it was 1944. The whole world needed to be wept over.
Then after the weeping, those ladies might have stood up and said, “okay! Let’s get going. Something is really wrong here. We need to steer this ship in a different direction. The war may be ending but the world needs a lot of healing.”
So, yes. We need a lot of weeping these days. Maybe we should stand before our capitals and city halls, the military recruitment centers and corporate headquarters and just weep. So bring a big handkerchief (preferably organic, free-trade cotton – no Kleenex) some sturdy walking shoes, a sun hat, an umbrella, ear muffs. We’re going to be out here a long time. Hold hands with those who tell the truth. With Jesus. He’s been through this before.
The climb up Golgatha is hard. It’s a long walk to resurrection.