There is a verse in Psalm 56:8 that says: “God, you have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your record?” This refers to the ancient practice, according to author James Fleming of “collecting one’s tears and preserving them in a tear bottle made of glass, many of which had a bulbous bottom and a long neck flared at the top to facilitate collecting of tears. Some scholars think that the woman who bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears at the house of Simon the Pharisee may have actually been pouring out her bottle of tears on his feet.
The Lenten Season is the time when we are asked as Christians to examine ourselves and I would like to examine the question: What’s in your tear bottle?
I see Jesus as a man who felt deeply! A man who cried tears of compassion, of grief, of love, and of anger. Jesus loved deeply and those who love deeply express deep emotions. We see in the Gospels that Jesus wept over many things:
- After his final entry into Jerusalem he wept tears of compassion over Jerusalem as he saw they would reject him and the way of peace that he brought and choose instead the way of a military messiah that would result in their utter destruction by Rome.
- He wept tears of grief as he saw the sorrow in the lives of Lazarus’s family—Mary and Martha— at the death of their brother Lazarus.
- He wept tears of anger at the sight of those who took advantage of the “little ones”—-the poor, the weak, the young, the old, the sick, the outcast.
- He wept in the Garden of Gethesemane as he prayed that the “cup might pass”—but that God’s will be done.
When I was growing up I was still taught that “Men don’t cry!” Somehow I never learned that lesson very well. I am glad to see today that men are no longer embarrassed by crying. But I’m talking to all followers of Jesus, both men and women when I ask you the question: “WHAT MAKES YOU CRY? What makes your eyes tear up?
Are we, like Jesus, crying tears over injustice, tears of compassion, genuine heart-and-soul tears over the plight of our world and humanity? Is our crying based on the kinds of attitudes and activities that brought the sting of salty tears to Jesus eyes? What tears are in your tear bottles? What tears are in mine?
I’ll go first and tell you some of my answers to this question. Then I invite you to answer it for yourself.
- I cried tears of grief yesterday as I conducted funeral services for a man and watched his wife grieving the loss of a husband of 53 years.
- I have cried tears of frustration as a pastor when I left the room of an elderly person in a nursing home whose family never visited her and whose life was being “warehoused” by the system .
- Many years ago as I stood in front of the Vietnam Wall in Washington D.C.—-I cried tears of grief for the loss of all of those young men and women whose names are recorded there and as I think what their lives might have meant to their families and to our society. And I cry tears of grief for all who have died in Iraq and in Palestine and Afghanistan since then.
- I cried tears of compassion many times as a hospice chaplain as I talked and prayed with a patient that had been told their cancer was terminal.
- I cry tears of anger when I read about the elderly being forced to choose between paying for medicine or food. Something is terribly wrong with a system that allows that to happen. And something is terribly wrong with professed Christians who keep quiet about it.
- I cry tears of compassion and anger when I see pictures of children who have bloated bellies and sticks for limbs due to hunger while the adults of their society are spending the money that might have fed them to kill each other
- I cry tears of compassion and anger as I see a homeless man or woman going through the trash, or trudging down the sidewalk with all they own on their backs in the cold and snow and rain. Tears of compassion for the homeless—-tears of anger at a society that would allow that to happen.
- I cry tears of grief as I see a mind wasted by Alzheimers disease.
- I have cried tears of joy when as a pastor I united a loving couple in marriage and declared them husband and wife.
Those are a few of the things that bring tears to my eyes. So—-WHAT DO YOU CRY ABOUT. FELLOW CHRISTIANS–WHAT MAKES YOU CRY?
I have come to believe that there is a linkage between suffering and love. They inhabit the same place deep in our souls. If we did not love, there would be no crying. We suffer and hurt and weep for our kids late into the night only because we love them. Kids get home sick when they go away to school or camp—because they love their homes and families. We shed tears over someone’s death because we love them. TO NOT CRY IS TO NOT LOVE FULLY! JESUS WEPT BECAUSE JESUS LOVED. WHAT IS IT THAT MAKES YOU HIS FOLLOWERS WEEP?
Frederick Beuchner, in “Whistling in the Dark” says: “Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not, God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where you should go next.”
WHAT’S IN YOUR TEAR BOTTLE? WHAT MAKES YOU CRY?