Moved to Tears

Small Voice Calling > The Call > Moved to Tears

“The adventure almost over.”

Sometime between 7BC and 1BC – nobody knows exactly when – the man whom in English we call ‘Jesus’ was born in Bethlehem, a small provincial town a few miles south of the walled city of Jerusalem.

Thirty-something years later, Jesus died on a hill just outside the city walls.

Crucifixion… the truth is far more terrifying

If people today know anything about Jesus, it is probably how he died. Well, the basics, anyway. He was executed by soldiers of the Roman Empire, having been summarily tried on a trumped-up charge of sedition. A log or plank was placed across his shoulders and his outstretched arms nailed to it through his wrists. The plank was then lifted onto a wooden framework so that he was suspended by his arms; and his ankles were nailed to a vertical beam.

Crucifixion. The cross. Painful. Bloody. Nasty. Death came slowly, a mixture of blood-loss, exposure, exhaustion, and, finally, asphyxiation, when he became too weak even to breathe.

That’s the sanitized version.

The truth is far more terrifying.

David Beckham’s tattooed neck

And yet, ever since that day, people have carved, painted, embroidered and graffitied images of this most barbaric instrument of punishment. We regularly see crucifixes or crosses dangling on gold or silver chains, or even tattooed on a footballer’s neck. 

It is as if those who wear a cross or crucifix are acknowledging – perhaps unwittingly, perhaps not – the enduring influence Jesus has on human society. In one sense, that influence started with his death. But it also extends backwards to before the dawn of time, and – more significantly for all of us – forwards into all eternity.

In his song, “Jesus Wept”, Ralph McTell explores, in fifteen verses, what might have moved Jesus to tears as he voluntarily went to Jerusalem knowing that he would be killed. Ralph’s imaginative scope draws on the full range of his Sunday School memories – from prophecies of old, to visions of the future.
Here are the lyrics of Ralph’s song. To read the Bible story suggested by a verse, click on the highlighted word; then follow the links at the bottom of each page to the ‘next’ or ‘previous’ verse.

Jesus Wept

The day that Jesus
Arrived in Jerusalem
The adventure almost over
That night he hadn’t slept
Dreams and premonitions
Made him tired and emotional
And that’s why Jesus wept

He wasn’t scared of dying
He’d made that commitment
Fulfilling the old prophecy
His bargain he had kept
He was due some satisfaction
But he was deeply troubled
And that’s why Jesus wept

Was this his true destiny
Or could he still make changes
Someone else’s nightmare
Into which he’d stepped
Damage limitation
Couldn’t save the situation

And that’s why Jesus wept

In his dream he saw the crusade
And all wars that would follow
Declared in his name
When he thought he’d been direct
Love thy neighbour do not kill
And turn the other cheek
And that’s why Jesus wept

He saw the inquisition
And the burning of the saints
The conversion of the innocents
He swore he would protect
He saw them bless the bomb
That they dropped on Hiroshima
And that’s why Jesus wept

Though Peter would betray him
He made him the rock
On which he’d build his church
To sort of keep him in his debt
A man about to die
Is allowed some confusion

And that’s why Jesus wept

He thought of his disciples
Especially of Judas
The job that was ordained for him
And the reward he’d collect
He saw him in the tree
With silver coins around him

And that’s why Jesus wept

Then he thought about the good times
When he turned the tables over
Chastised the money lenders
And he earned the boys’ respect
Proud of godly anger
But ashamed at manly temper

And that’s why Jesus wept

Rumours started flying
About water into wine
Sight to the blind
And that he’d even raised the dead
The biggest miracle
Was that everyone believed it

And that’s why Jesus wept

Then he mused on human nature
How fickle were the public
So ready to accept him
So quick now to reject
Where were the five thousand
He fed with loaves and fishes

That’s why Jesus wept

In his dream he saw a garden
With all his friends asleep
He walked away the hours
Until the morning crept
He wondered would the nails hurt
Would he be man enough
And that’s why Jesus wept

Was he supposed to bear it
Like a man or like a God
Would tears show a weakness
Or a strength by their effect
Would they be viewed as compassion
Or failure and self-pity
And that’s why Jesus wept

Then he saw his houses burning
On both sides of a border
Saw the guiltless suffer
With the guilty and the rest
And when they called his name
And he knew he couldn’t help them
That’s why Jesus wept

Then he saw two armies marching
And he heard their crucifixes
Reduced to superstitious muted
Jangling round their necks
And he heard his name intoned
As they interred their companions

And that’s why Jesus wept

Then he thought about his mother
And the stories she had told him
Who’d filled his dreams with angels
Put voices in his head
Then the scent of pine trees
Made him think of dear old Joseph

And that’s why Jesus wept

‘Jesus Wept’ by Ralph McTell
Lyrics in ‘Time’s Poems’, p 353