This meditation is based on Luke 7:36-50.
What makes you cry? Once, on an episode of the Simpsons, Bart was skateboarding and got hit by a car. His mom was hysterical and I started crying with her. Something silly and dumb happened next, so it didn’t last long but still the Simpsons made me cry. Not many people can say that.
For me, all sorts of things bring on tears. When I dislocated my shoulder I cried because it hurt. When I attended my Aunt’s funeral, I cried because I was sad. When one of my kids was hurt I cried because they hurt. Sometimes, I’ll cry just because I am overwhelmed. Honestly, I think this is what happened when Bart Simpson got hit by a car. It isn’t that I was worried about a cartoon character. The TV sadness triggered some deep sadness inside of me.
The woman in our story today must have been really good at crying. When I cry, it is brief and I get control of myself quickly. Even though I cry more than most men, I don’t cry in public much. This woman, though, she was crying. She was crying so much that she used the tears to clean the feet of Jesus. The guy wore sandals. Do you have any idea how many tears it would take to clean those feet?
We are not told much about her life, so it is hard to tell why she is crying. The only fact we are told is that she is a sinner. In her religion, Judaism, this meant she broke at least one of 613 laws in the Talmud. These laws run the gamut from what kind of food you can eat to not allowing people to kill each other. If you break a law, you are supposed to do something to fix it. For most laws a ritual washing, to symbolize that you are washing the sin from your life, would suffice.
Some people couldn’t fix the problem very easily under Jewish law because the very way they lived always kept them in a state of sin. People with certain jobs like a tax collector who touched Roman money with the image of the emperor on it or a woman with a constant menstrual cycle just couldn’t wash the sin off of them. They were always sinful, thus no one would have anything to do with them because their constant state of sinfulness was seen as contagious. If you touched them or they touched you, you would become sinful just like them.
The woman in our story is in this state of sin and can’t get out. We don’t know what made her sinful, but we do know the results. No one will have anything to do with her. Everyone, including Simon the Pharisee worked hard to stay away from her day after day. Surely, it was a lonely and shameful existence for this woman. Sin left her isolated and alone. No one would or could save her.
It makes sense that she is crying because her life is stranded in the state of sin. Hopelessness makes me cry, too. I get why she may be prone to uncontrollable weeping. Yet, Jesus indicates these are not tears of sadness but rather something else.
There was a lot of crying going on in the season finale of a new show called Parenthood. It is a show about a big extended family all living in the San Francisco Bay area. There are two high school cousins that are polar opposites of each other. One is popular, pretty, and athletic and has perfect parents. The other dresses in black, is an outsider at school, has divorced messed up parents and overweight by Hollywood standards. The unpopular cousin kind of steals the popular cousin’s boyfriend in a way that you hope never comes to the mind of your 15 year old daughter. The unpopular girl felt horrible about it as soon as it happened but once it happened she couldn’t make it not happen. When her family and school found out what happened, no one would talk to her or have anything to do with her. She was completely isolated, alone and ashamed and she couldn’t fix it, nor could anyone else.
Well, one person could, the popular cousin. In one of the last scenes of the show in the pouring down rain the popular cousin finds the unpopular cousin and forgives her, hugs her and invites her back into the family. The unpopular girl couldn’t make what she did right. There was no way to clean her of this sin. The only way she could be brought back from isolation at school and at home is if the popular cousin forgives her. This is what happened.
Both girls on TV were crying and I was crying like a 15 year old girl, too. None of us were sad, though. They weren’t those kinds of tears. They were tears of joy; for the love that was shown in the rain that brought her back into community. In a book I am reading Catholic priest and writer Richard Rohr says sometimes God’s love fills our heart and overflows through our eyes. Sometimes, our tears are because of the enormity of God’s love that is felt and our heart can’t contain it.
I think that is what these tears are about for this woman, too. She was in a tough state, sin and no one could figure out how to get her out of there. The only way she could leave is if somebody just wiped the slate clean and forgave her. Simon the Pharisee couldn’t do it nor could the other villagers that would have nothing to do with her. Only God could. Through Jesus, this is what God did. He declared her forgiven and invited her into a new community of people that would honor her forgiveness, his followers. This forgiveness and invitation promised to change her life in remarkable and good ways. It was an unearned gift and brought tears of joy. Her heart was full of God’s love and it overflowed through her eyes.
Sometimes, I feel stuck in the state of sin and just can’t figure out how to get out. Have you ever felt like that? Like, we are destined to make the same mistakes over and over and over again. Mistakes that brand us as sinner to the community; isolate us like the unpopular cousin; or fill us with great shame so we hide them with all of our effort, sealed in an envelope that we don’t dare open.
Linda put my envelope of resolutions on my desk last week. If you worshipped with us on January 3, 2010, you likely received the resolutions that you made in the mail. They were promises we made together in worship to change those things we can so we become a clearer image of Christ in this world. I didn’t open mine at first. I’ll do it tomorrow I said. Tomorrow came and I said I’ll do it tomorrow. I wrote this entire sermon not opening it up. Why? Because I didn’t want to face my list of things I long to change but seem powerless, too. I didn’t want to face the shame of failing and falling short again. I didn’t want to encounter yet again my inability to drive out of the state of sin by my own hard work.
Then I got to thinking about crying and how this woman cried in our story. She cried so many tears she could wash the feet of Jesus. She cried tears of joy that overflowed her heart and ran out her eyes. She had found a highway shaped like a cross that led from the state of sin to someplace much better, forgiveness. The only toll for this road was trusting in a Jewish rabbi when he says no matter what your sins are forgiven. The road leads to a community of forgiven sinners who trusted him, too.
She cried and I cried. Not tears of pain or isolation or failure but of joy. Joy that someone hugged her in the rain and invited her back into community. Joy that someone knew her deepest, darkest secrets, what is in this sealed envelope and still said I love you. Joy that there is a cross shaped highway that leads out of the state of sin and into the state of forgiveness.
We don’t have to carry around our sealed envelopes of shame. We are forgiven. We don’t have to be known by our worst actions. We are forgiven. We do not have to be branded anything by society except, forgiven. We don’t have to live ashamed outside of community because the church longs for us to join them. We don’t have to temper our joy. Let the joy fill your heart and overflow from your eyes. Cry tears of joy instead. Amen