Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Jesus wept

Christianity is not stoicism. Sure, following Jesus’ example does mean first, accepting what is happening to me and recognizing that, whatever it is - whether pleasant or unpleasant, is willed or allowed by God and second, recognizing that it is a context in which loving my neighbors and God through them are open to me. However, the story does not end there, or rather, if it does, then it may well take on a form of the perennial Gnostic heresy that Christianity has resisted since as early as the first century AD and that Pope Francis still battles against today (e.g., see Evangelii Gaudium §94).

The central idea of Gnosticism is a dualism where matter and spirit are opposed, the former being evil and the latter good. A consequence of this belief is also a denial of Jesus’ incarnation, since God, who is good cannot at the same time be matter, which is bad. The Jesus of the Gnostics is pure spirit - a ghost of some sorts, instead of both fully God and fully man. Jesus’ affections and sufferings become mere simulacra and his compassion and sacrifice a mere caricature.

That is not Christianity.

Jesus’ and the Old Testament’s teaching is fundamentally panentheist (cf. St. Paul’s “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28)) and, with some qualifications deriving principally from the difference in the cardinality of God and the Universe, monist. Jesus is both God and Man, both a delimited, finite human - made of flesh, nerves and bones - and the infinite, transcendent God who brought the Universe into being and maintains it in existence. Today’s feast of the Theotokos - of Mary being the mother of God and not only of Jesus the man - has profound consequences in terms of God's humility and love for men and women, instead of being just another piece of makeup as the Gnostic system would have it.

That Jesus was fully human and not only some form of a transcendent God’s apparent presence is also underlined by his incomplete knowledge (cf. “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32)) and by his responding to events not only by will by also by emotion, to the point of shedding tears.

Jesus cried when faced with the death of his friend, Lazarus:
“When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Sir, come and see.” And Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.”” (John 11:32-36)
when he was at the point of entering Jerusalem to face his capture and crucifixion (foreseeing the subsequent destruction of the city by the Romans and perhaps the longer-term persecution of his people - the people of Israel, including the unspeakable genocide of the Shoah):
“As he drew near, he saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If this day you only knew what makes for peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. For the days are coming upon you when your enemies will raise a palisade against you; they will encircle you and hem you in on all sides. They will smash you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another within you because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”” (Luke 19:41-44)
and surely also when praying to the Father in the garden on the Mount of Olives before his capture on Maundy Thursday:
“After withdrawing about a stone’s throw from them and kneeling, he prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” And to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him. He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.” (Luke 22:41-44)
Why did Jesus cry though? Was it weakness, a deplorable lack of trust in God the Father or for show?

No. Instead, it was for the reasons for which Pope Francis is asking anyone who wants to listen to cry too, when faced with injustice and suffering: “The mystery of the Cross [...] can only be understood, a little bit, by kneeling, in prayer, but also through tears: they are the tears that bring us close to this mystery. [...] Without weeping, heartfelt weeping, we can never understand [the] mystery [of the cross]. It is the cry of the penitent, the cry of the brother and the sister who are looking upon so much human misery and looking on Jesus, kneeling and weeping and never alone, never alone!” On another occasion, Pope Francis takes the importance of tears one step further, by likening them to lenses through which we recognize Jesus:
“At the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene's hopes are dashed, but rather than feel like she had failed again, she simply cries. Sometimes in our lives tears are the lenses we need to see Jesus. Let us ask the Lord to give us the grace of tears - it's a beautiful grace - and ask for the grace to be able to say with our lives, ‘I have seen the Lord,’ not because he appeared to me, but because I saw him with my heart.”
Tears, when faced with suffering either of another or even of oneself, are not signs of weakness, but expressions of sincere, heartfelt love and, I believe, Jesus may well add to the list of questions that will be asked at the Last Judgement (about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc.): “When you saw your brother in pain or your sister in anguish, did you cry?”