Jesus’ Mirror Neurons and Synchronicity

Ever since I used the shortest verse in Christian scripture to bring God’s comfort to the congregation mourning Aunt Carolyn’s death, the two words, “Jesus wept,” have hung around the edges of my mind.

This past Sunday, those nine characters were embedded in the lectionary passage from John’s gospel, the one so well known as The Raising of Lazarus.  And that is what I preached:  “Jesus wept.”

But you know what?  Jesus ONLY wept when he came face to face with Lazarus’ sister Mary, crying in her grief.

There is no other record of Jesus’ tears.  Not when he hears that his good friend Lazarus has died.  Not when Lazarus’ other sister Martha (the complainer) complains to him.  Jesus doesn’t cry at the Last Supper, washing the disciples’ feet, or breaking the bread, or acknowledging he knows Judas will betray him.  There are no tears at the Garden of Gethsemane, or on the way to the cross, or on the cross.  

The tears only come when he sees Mary, Lazarus’ sister, crying.  And then he cries.  Now, the very next sentence has the crowd interpreting those tears, “See how much he loved him!”  But I think they have missed the point.  

Human beings are wired to mimic one another’s facial expressions.  Immobilize your face by holding a pencil in your mouth (or get too many botox treatments) and you can’t figure out what another person is feeling – At least not as well.

There is something about not just seeing, but a mimicking what you see, that lets our brains connect.  Part of the puzzle has to do with these little neurons called “mirror neurons,” that not only start firing as if we are the ones gesturing or expressing, laughing or crying, when we see someone else do these things, but they light up in anticipation of the other’s next move.  

Another part of the puzzle has to do with the “positive synchronicity” that shows up between two people – In fact, Barbara Frederickson suggests another dimension of emotion is something happening to two people at the same time, not just contained in one body.  She also says that when we cut off vocal tones, facial expressions and gesturing in our communication patterns  – That is, we reduce all communication to texting – We no longer resonate with one another.  (from a lecture she gave at the Psychotherapist Networker, March 2014.)  (Check our her website here:

Back to Jesus:  In my sermon I suggested that it was at this point, and not before, that Jesus really knew in his core what it was to be a full human being.  It was in this moment of connection with Mary that he understood the vulnerability and loss we all  face in this human life.  Mary’s tears brought tears to his eyes, in an amazing example of how we are wired to connect.  And how our Maker longs to connect with us.


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