A Time to Weep

A Letter to Pittsburgh Presbytery from
Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge
General Minister
Thursday, April 7, 2022

A Time to Weep

As a child I was part of a Sunday School that from time to time ran contests on who could memorize the most verses of Scripture. A staple on our memorization list was John 11:35, the shortest verse in the King James Bible, which reports succinctly that at Lazarus’ tomb, “Jesus wept.” So I knew from my earliest days that Jesus was a man of tears.

Christians have long seen Jesus as fulfilling Isaiah’s suffering servant prophecies, “A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3 KJV) Hebrews tells us that during his time on earth “Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears.” Jesus’ tears were stimulated by bereavement, compassion, and personal distress.

According to Luke, Jesus also wept for one more reason – frustration. It happens at the pinnacle of Jesus’ public acclaim, at his “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem that we celebrate on Palm Sunday. The crowd’s adulations are still ringing in the air when Jesus begins to weep as he looks over the city of Jerusalem from his hillside vista. “If only…” he laments.

“If you … had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!” Jesus’ anguish is not that they rejected his words or actions, but that they rejected God’s peace when it was offered to them.

This is the heart of why Jesus came – to make peace. The kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed is marked by peace. Enemies are reconciled. Swords are beaten into plowshares. Wastelands become verdant gardens. Shalom, the Hebrew word for peace, signals not just an end of conflict, but wholeness and health within and between us.

It was right there for Jerusalem to accept, but it turned away. “Better the devil you know,” we’d say today, than taking the risk of following Jesus. Jerusalem knew full well all the ways it fell short of God’s intention. It was well-schooled in the Law and the Prophets that pointed to God’s desire for peace. Yet, given the opportunity to embrace it by following Jesus, it turned away. And Jesus wept.

For what are we weeping today? We cannot travel the Lenten road in company with Jesus without also shedding tears. Tears for our own sins, and for the sins of the people we have been called to serve. We hope to stand with Jesus on the side of God’s reign, but if we’re honest we may well see ourselves in the story among the denizens of Jerusalem, as those who turn away from rather than embracing the peace of our Lord.

Never has our world been more rife with brokenness, the opposite of shalom. We lead with suspicion rather than with embrace. We follow the script that says if you don’t look like me or think like me, I want nothing to do with you. Jerusalem turned its back on Jesus because he refused to bless their insistence of sticking with their “us vs. them” world. And Jesus wept for them.

As I contemplate our own landscape of a polarized world where people who claim to love and follow Jesus insist on maintaining and fortifying an “us vs. them” way of living, how can I but weep as well?

Before we cast stones at people in our surrounding culture who shun the ways of peace, perhaps we need to look in the mirror. Are we bearing witness to God’s shalom in how we treat one another in the church? Are we any less prone than the surrounding world to shun or even attack those who think and look different from us – even though they look to the same Lord and Savior as we do?

After Jesus wept over Jerusalem, according to Luke, he went to the Temple and drove out the Temple professionals who claimed to have righteous intent but were in fact taking advantage of others. He minced no words, calling them “robbers.” For Jesus, there was a time to weep, then a time to act.

Jesus’ pathway to redemptive action against injustice begins with weeping. We would do well to follow his lead, as we engage injustices in our own place and time. Weep first. In confession, contrition, and compassion. Then act. With conviction, courage, and confidence that justice shall prevail – not because of our own power, but because this is God’s will.

With the Psalmist, let us dare to trust that, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” It was the prospect of morning joy that kept Jesus on track as he went to the cross. (Hebrews 12:1-2) What is the joy that draws us forward through our night of weeping as we struggle against injustice today?

Yours on the way to the cross,

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