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Jesus Wept

Breakfast plates were cleared, the dog was walked, the offering check was written. I stepped into the kitchen to get Mary and go to church. Then I looked out into my backyard, and saw an antlered buck hanging on my fence by his hind leg. He struggled to stay upright on the three hooves that could still touch ground. He must have been there all night because the hooves had chewed the turf under him into a patch of dirt that looked like a fresh grave.

Mary called the Florida Wildlife Commission while I had the naive idea that I could perhaps hook a broom handle around his hoof and flip it up over the fence. Maybe he could run free. I knew I couldn’t get close without getting kicked, bitten and gored, but I thought I could do something.

I got to the far side of the fence from his body and horns where I could get at the hoof in relative safety. But the situation was not so simple as I had imagined; the broom trick would not work. A crossbar and the upright bars of the aluminum fence had created a hole that trapped the hoof and leg. I dropped the broom and grasped the hoof, trying to bend it to a position where it would slip through the bars, but to no avail. Furthermore, the leg was badly injured. A thigh laceration bled freely, dripping onto the hoof and now onto my hands and my jeans.

In another moment I figured that the only two ways of getting him out would be to lift his two-hundred pound body over my shoulders while simultaneously freeing the trapped leg, or cut out a section of the aluminum fence.

I left the broom and found a hacksaw. While the buck kicked and pawed the ground on one side of the fence, I stood on the other and sawed at the top bar. In five minutes I was drenched in sweat, and the bar only half cut through. I calculated time it would take to make the necessary four cuts and came up with Plan B.

I returned to the garage and gathered every extension cord I owned and brought my one electric saw that had a metal-cutting blade. Stringing the cords past the buck and over the fence, I got into position and started sawing. I pulled the trigger on the saw, and the blade flew out. In my haste, I hadn’t locked it securely. I took an extra moment to make sure the next blade was secure before attacking the fence.

Ten minutes later, drenched in sweat and stained with blood, I detached a foot-long section of upper bar and cross bar, and the leg could could finally be freed. As I pulled the aluminum away, I finally saw the wound clearly. The leg had a compound fracture. No longer held up by the fence and exhausted from his hours of struggle, the buck collapsed in the dirt.

For a deer, like a horse, a fractured leg is a mortal wound. The wildlife officer arrived shortly, assessed the situation, and used his sidearm to administer the necessary coup de grace. I helped him drag the body to the road and load it into his truck.

No one likes to witness the painful demise of a beautiful creature, but I found myself sinking into an unreasonable level of depression and despair. I wanted to cry. I mentally slapped myself a couple of times, and told myself that accidents happen, and that the deer was an animal–and one that we might even eat sometimes, for heaven’s sake. His death in my backyard is not a life-changing tragedy. I should get over it, and get over it quickly.

But notice the pronoun. I called it his death, not its death. The memories his death evoked were not about wildlife. A closet in my emotional memory had opened. This experience was a trigger event. I had the same dark feelings I had in the past when I lost a patient.

The recognition of suffering, the thought that the situation looks bleak but maybe something can be done, the time pressure, the solitude of the responsibility–these are the beginning of a sequence of events began in ERs and ORs and ICUs far too often over the years.

Then a plan evolves, and there is the brief comfort of action. Hope rises. Then Plan A fails, and Plan B begins, maybe even succeeds, but it is too late, or maybe it was hopeless from the very beginning. Hope fades and dies. Only blood, sweat, and tears remain.

The faces flash by–the babies, the children. The young moms are especially painful. The video keeps playing. Even the criminals and the very old evoke sorrowful memories of lost battles.

I don’t know exactly what to say about this. Doctors and nurses and EMTs, and maybe some combat veterans, will know what I am talking about, but not many others. This experience with the deer, coming in the course of my study of the healing miracles of Jesus, makes me wonder if what I felt in these emergent circumstances was the same thing that Jesus felt when the leper kneeled in front of Him (Matt. 8: 2-4), or when He came upon the funeral procession for the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7: 11-15), or when He heard that His friend Lazarus died (John 11: 1-44).

Maybe He felt less urgency, because He had eternity and all the powers of the universe working for Him, and therefore was pretty sure of the outcome as soon as He lifted His arm. On the other hand, He had limited Himself to human form, and the time-space-matter constraints of our universe. Maybe he felt the same near panic, the frailness of hope, the urgency of the moment.

The Gospels don’t record Jesus failing. He commanded healing, and healing came. But the Gospels do record Him weeping. He cried when Lazarus died (John 11:35), and He wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). Which is so strange. If Jesus is God, and God knows all events past and future, why would He cry? He should not be surprised or disappointed…unless another outcome had been possible. Only if Lazarus did not need to suffer, and Jerusalem did not need to be destroyed, did Jesus have cause to weep.

What does it mean when the Lord of the universe weeps? Why doesn’t He just fix it if it makes Him so sad?

He did “just fix it” in the case of Lazarus. A moment after He wept, He had the tomb opened and commanded Lazarus to come out, and he did. So, if He knew He could fix even death, why weep? For the suffering that Lazarus went through? For the grief of the sisters, Martha and Mary? For the lost souls who would witness this resurrection of Lazarus and immediately start planning the assassination of Jesus, because it was more important for them to believe themselves right than to be awed by a window into eternity?

He didn’t say, and I don’t know.

Then He wept for the entire city of Jerusalem, the capital of his native country, like you might if you envisioned the certain destruction of Washington, D.C. This time, though, He specified why he wept. He wept for the lost opportunity and the coming annihilation. Accepting the news that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, that a healing hand would be lifted to anyone kneeling to accept it–these were the things that could have prevented disaster.

But the opportunity had slipped away. The people then, like so many now, did not believe that the kingdom of heaven is right here, right now, and could be entered by turning away from the kingdom of the world. They believed they were governed by the the forces of power and money and rational good sense. And since they believed that, the forces of more power and more money and more rational good sense destroyed their city and scattered their people for the next two millennia.

I wanted to weep because I couldn’t save a deer. Imagine how Jesus felt.

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