“Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in…
She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”
She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”
“Mary!” Jesus said.” (John 20:11, 14-16 NLT)
It’s funny how, as we read the Bible, the way we interpret it is so often linked to our own ideas and experiences. We read the words that were spoken, but we aren’t always able to discern the tone of voice or the facial expressions, so it is left to our imaginations to fill in the gaps.
In the past I would have imagined Jesus’ question here being spoken with a tone of impatience, criticising Mary, telling her there was no need to cry, frustrated that she couldn’t recognise him when he was standing right in front of her.
However my views on this passage, and on crying in general, have changed.
It began with a fascinating and enlightening conversation several years ago. A group of friends was talking about crying, estimating how many times they cried in a year. Most people said somewhere between 20 and 40, one girl said she cried at least 60 times in a year, and when someone else confessed she probably cried around 4 times a year, people reacted with shock that the number was so low.
I was also shocked, but for the opposite reason. I think my number would have been 1 or 2, and I had no idea that was so unusual. I couldn’t even have imagined crying 60 times in a year!
If I’m honest, I was quite proud of the fact that I didn’t cry much. It made me feel strong and that I could cope with life. I was pleased with my ability to hold it together… until God cracked me open.
As I finally let out the pain I’d been carrying for years, I suddenly discovered the ability to cry. 60 times a year suddenly didn’t seem so much any more. Though I didn’t keep track, I think in that first year it must have been at least 100.
Sometimes I felt I’d never stop crying, but I did, and gradually I worked my way down to more of an average number. I think my number is still on the low side but it is much higher than it was, and it still surprises me sometimes when I cry over films or news stories or blog posts – things I could never have imagined crying over in the past.
Now I hear Jesus’ question not with a tone of impatience, but with tenderness and love. He knew why Mary was crying- that the grief and loss she felt was because of her love for him- and surely that must have touched him. Surely he must have cherished the fact that she cared so deeply.
Surely it must also have saddened him to see someone he cared for in so much pain. Yes, he longed for the realisation that he was alive to stop her tears, but I don’t think he felt frustration, but empathy and compassion.
Jesus understood her grief. He wept himself at the grave of Lazarus. (John 11:35) Even though he knew that death was not the end of the story, still he wept at the pain and sorrow of the situation.
Psalm 56:8 assures us that our tears are noticed and valued by God: “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”
This comforts me, and reassures me that it’s okay to cry. Some of us have bigger bottles of tears than others because we’re all different, but each one of them is precious to God.
I’ll be honest- I have cried more than usual this week, because of pain and brokenness I see in the world and feel in my spirit.
Part of me still tries to squash that with the exhortation that Jesus is alive, that he has triumphed over all these things. It tells me that, like Mary, I am mourning unnecessarily because Jesus has won the victory, that I just have to lift my eyes from the circumstances and see that Jesus is there.
The truth is though that sometimes, as they did for Mary, circumstances blind us. Our grief clouds our view and prevents us from looking beyond it to see Jesus. This passage assures me that in those times he draws near, not in condemnation or criticism, but in love and compassion. He comes to us in our sorrow and tenderly calls us by name.
He draws near in love and compassion. He comes to us in our sorrow and tenderly calls us by name. (Click to tweet.)
This is part 8 of a series reflecting on questions Jesus asked. Join me next week for the final post in the series. (I think I said that this was the last one but I was getting ahead of myself!)
Click below to catch up on the other posts:
What Do You Want Me To Do For You?
Do You Want To Get Well?
How Much Bread Do You Have?
Who Touched My Robe?
Can Worry Add To Your Life?
Do You Believe That I Am Able To Do This?
Why Have You Abandoned Me?