Painting With Jesus’ Tears - A Message for Palm Sunday from Mako Fujimura

The Four Gospels, Charis-Kairos (Tears of Christ), Mineral Pigments on Belgium Linen, 64x80", Makoto Fujimura

In 2011, when Crossway commissioned me to illumine the Four Holy Gospels, I decided to use John 11:35, “Jesus wept,” as a theological lens to illumine the pages.* In this commission, I sought to “paint with Jesus’s tears” the five frontispieces, 89 chapter-heading initial letters, and 148 pages of illuminations. So for me, the celebration of such a moment is humbling reminder of Christ’s tears and his compassion for the world.

Every Lenten season, if I am asked to speak at a church, I have spoken on John 11:35, “Jesus Wept” (See for a full essay on John 11). This Palm Sunday, at a gathering in Houston, right after we celebrate Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna,” I will be mentioning another account of Jesus weeping:  

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.  (Luke 19:41-44, ESV)

For us at the Brehm Center, it is our task as we approach Easter to consider what it means to create by Jesus’s tears. How would our art, our communities, and our culture change if we focused on God’s compassion, Jesus’s willingness to descend into the darkness, to receive suffering in our behalf, and then create out of that gratuitous compassion?

Do we look over our cities today and weep?  God does, and therefore at a deeper level of our lives, we need to.

May our offering be just as extravagant and costly as Mary’s nard given in response to Jesus’s tears and the resurrection hope. May our art be filled with compassion of Christ even as we celebrate.


Each time I speak on these passages and the gospel story of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, something stirs within my heart to “see” the passages in a new way.

Two Sunday’s ago, I spoke on this passage in Austin, TX, church as I was there to partake in SXSW experience where Brehm Center teaches an immersion class.

In John 11, Jesus is told that Lazarus has become ill, but Jesus intentionally delays his coming, saying to his disciples that his decision is “for the glory of God.” (1:4) Lazurus dies. Martha and Mary, grieving, are confounded by Jesus’s actions. Yet, when Martha meets Jesus half way to Bethany, this important confession is recorded:

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.  Do you believe this?’” (John 11:25, ESV)

Martha answers “yes” (yet still not fully comprehending), and then persuades her sister Mary to see Jesus. What follows is a mystery.

Seeing Mary’s tears, Jesus wept.

Why did Jesus weep? Why did he not simply take Mary by her hand, tell her, “Ye of little faith, come with me and I will show you what I can do to resurrect the dead.”? He did not do that.  Instead, he “wasted time” weeping with her.

I am convinced that the “mystery of the gospel” is imbedded in these few passages; I am convinced that our art and our lives are hidden in the tears of Christ.

May our Lenten journey reflect the deeper reality of these “use-less” tears of Christ.  May we paint with Jesus’s tears, live in that mystery, and breathe in the gratuitous grace of the Presence of compassion who would rather spend time with us, rather than to explain away our suffering.

Go here for a full essay on John 11.

* These original set of paintings will be featured by The Museum of the Bible in Washington DC, which is set to open this November. They will be creating a chapel around my works.


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