Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Great Sacrifice Indeed

I've been reading a book called Strange Scriptures That Perplex the Western Mind by Barbara M. Bowen, which seeks to clarify several scriptural passages by explaining relevant biblical customs and traditions. Although the book's purpose is to highlight the culture of the biblical past, many of the customs and conditions it deals with are still present today. And so, not only is it a window into the historical context of the Bible but it is also a glance into the current culture of the Near East. I'm having a fascinating time reading it, as I've been constantly bombarded with new facts and surprising details.

Today I would like to share an excerpt dealing with Luke 7:37-40, when a "sinful woman " washes Jesus' feet with her tears and wipes them with her hair. The 'strange' aspect of this story, at least for me, was how/if the woman had been able to produce enough tears to actually wash Jesus' feet. I had a hard time trying to picture her hovering over Christ's feet, waiting for the tears to drip down her cheek and drop onto his skin. Strange Scriptures, however, explains that it is quite likely she wasn't using freshly wept tears at all but in fact pouring them out from a 'tear bottle,' an object that was customary of the times:

"We find reference in many old books to the custom of collecting the tears of the whole family and preserving them in bottles. Thus King David prays, "Put though my tears in thy bottle: are they not in thy book?" Tear bottles have been found in very large numbers on opening ancient tombs. They are made of thin glass usually, although the very poor sometimes had just simple pottery bottles, not even baked or glazed. They were all made with a slender body, broad at the base, with a funnel-shaped top. Every member of the family owned a tear bottle and they collected the tears of the whole family.

When serious trouble or a death occurred in the home, all the relatives came and each one brought his tear bottle with him. As they wept and wailed, the tears rolling down their cheeks, each person took his or her tear bottle and gathered tears from the faces of all present.

This bottle was exceedingly sacred to them. It represented all the heartaches, sorrows and bereavements from the grandparents down to the small child. When a person died, his tear bottle was buried with him, as one of his most sacred possessions.

This helps us to a better understanding of what the woman did for her Master. She noticed the very discourteous way in which Christ was treated as a guest in the house of Simon the Pharisee.

He provided no water to wash the Lord's feet and no oil to anoint his head; so this poor, sinful woman, longing for forgiveness and a new life, took her tear bottle, poured the tears over his tired, dusty feet and wiped them with her long hair. A great sacrifice indeed, done in love and gratitude to the Saviour. They could "not be replaced and she might die without a bottle of tears to be buried with her in her tomb."

This woman's actions exemplify the spirit of sacrifice and servant hood that we are all called to possess when serving the persecuted. When we speak, write or pray on their behalf, we are not only spilling our own tears in response to their pain; we are collecting the tears of our suffering brothers and sisters themselves and pouring them out the feet of the Saviour. This offering is both communal and individual, just as the woman's tear bottle belonged both to her and to the family members whose tears she had collected.

It matters not if we will go to our graves with our hands empty and bodies weary from living in the way of the cross. It matters only that we be willing to completely surrender ourselves and our fellow believers over to the One who will come to wipe every tear from the eyes of the faithful.


Anonymous said...

Good posting, Adele. And excellent application at the end. Thanks!


Anonymous said...

Beautiful. I will remember this when writing to our brothers and sisters in prison.