"What Makes You Cry?"       Mark 9:38-50      September 27, 2009
 
"For everything there is a season ... a time to weep, and a time to laugh."   -- Ecclesiastes 3:1,4
 
The prophet Jeremiah proclaims, "In those days and in that time, says the LORD, the people ... shall come weeping as they seek the LORD their God. They shall ask the way to Zion, with faces turned toward it" (Jeremiah 50:4-5).

"Tears are a biological gift of God (writes
EugenePeterson). They are a physical means for expressing emotional and spiritual experience. But it is hard to know what to do with them. If we indulge our tears, we cultivate self-pity. If we suppress our tears, we lose touch with our feelings. But if we pray our tears, we enter into sadness that integrates our sorrows with our Lord's sorrows and discover both the source of / and the relief from / our sadness."

The Psalmist writes, "You've kept track of my every toss and turn through the sleepless nights. Each tear entered in your ledger, each ache written in your book (Psalm 56:8)[i]."

Mark (v.42)"If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea."
The Jesus of love and mercy now uses images of force and fury to illustrate how deep his emotions run on this subject. Those who willfully erect "stumbling blocks," whose actions hinder the progress of those weak in their faith, the "little ones," are declared better off at the bottom of the sea.
 
So great is Jesus' love for these "little ones" he draws on the ancient means of pars pro toto to make his point. (pars pro toto is a "partial sacrifice for the sake of survival of the whole / in a situation of pursuit, threat and anxiety") Any behavior that would lead others astray, should be treated as decidedly as pars pro toto.

In the ancient world, pars pro toto (especially finger-sacrifice) was not unknown. Apparently, antiquity had a celebrated hypochondriac by the name of
AeliusAristides. He was instructed in a dream to save his life he should "cut a piece of his body for the sake of the whole," but that he could dedicate his ring-finger instead.[ii]
 
Pars pro toto is also known outside the human species. Some spiders, lizards and birds have body parts break off to distract predators while the prey finds safety.

Jesus is the first to talk about pars pro toto in the context of saving others, not oneself. In unprecedented fashion, Jesus recommended the pain and humiliation of permanent maiming as a positive alternative, not for the sake of self-survival, but for the protection and preservation of the "little ones."


42"If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.
43If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.
45And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.
47And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
 
 Jesus' greatest anger, his darkest emotions, his bitterest tears were reserved for those who took advantage of the "little ones" -- the poor, the weak, the young, the old, the sick, the outcast. Jesus did not try to curb his tongue when castigating those who took unfair advantage or practiced outright abuse against the "little ones" of the world. Jesus was not ashamed to express the fierceness of his feelings, or to shed tears of compassion and love for all the "little ones" who stumble and struggle in this world.

Tears of justice, compassion, genuine heart-and-soul-break are rare today. Tears aren't rare, but are they for the right reason? Music and movies provide lots of "tear-jerker" situations to sing and wail about.

But what makes us cry, church? Is our crying really nothing more than wanting what the world has; or wanting what we used to have --the prestige, the preeminence, the power of being on top of the world? Or is our crying based on the kinds of attitudes and activities that brought the sting of tongue to Jesus' mouth, the sting of tears to Jesus' eyes?

"
Jesus wept." These words have been a mystery through the ages. Jesus not only cried out in a loud voice during his ministry on earth;.[iii] Jesus, literally, cried. He was not distand, stoic, or removed from the pain and plight of humanity.

Author
MonicaFurlong, wrote of memories growing up Christian, in her book titled Our Childhood's Pattern. It is based on the fourth verse of Mrs.Alexander's nativity hymn for children, "Once in Royal David's City." This is the verse which is most often cut:

For he is our childhood's pattern:
Day by day like us he grew;
He was little, weak and helpless,
Tears and smiles like us he knew;
And he feeleth for our sadness,
And he shareth in our gladness.

An emotional
Jesus -- breaking into a smile or a laugh, bursting into tears of sorrow and chagrin -- this is the Savior we serve.
 
Jesus was real; not merely an animated religious icon. And certainly not the stern, "you-better-behave-just-right-or-else" God that some folks have grown up with.
 
The image of an emotional Jesus presented by the early church, contrasted dramatically with the prevailing Roman ideals of tearlessness and stoicism.[iv]
 
--
Jesus cried when he looked out over Jerusalem and wept for a city that did not know what made for peace. The Triumphal Entry ended in tears because his own people could not recognize the Way, the Truth and the Life when it stared them in the face.

--
Jesus cried when he saw the havoc death wreaked on the life of his best friend's family. The Bible says he "was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved" from the pain of Lazarus' death and "began to weep" (John11:33, 35).

The chapel on the
Mount of Olives[v], dedicated to Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, is architecturally shaped like a tear bottle.
 
And so, beloved, what makes us cry? What makes you sad?

There is a verse in the Psalms: "You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your record?" (56:8) According to
Dr.JamesFleming, the bottle of tears refers to an ancient practice of collecting one's tears and preserving them in a tear bottle. These bottles were made of glass, many of which had a bulbous bottom and a long neck flared at the top to facilitate collecting the tears.
 
"What makes you cry?" How many tears are in your bottle?
 
What makes you cry, church?
Does it make you cry when people spit in God's face and put themselves in God's place by treating those whom
Jesus lived, loved and died for as "scum of the earth"?

What makes you cry?
Does the heartless, tearless attitude of advertising make you cry? Do you grieve over a world that is going to hell in a shopping cart? Do you lament that consumerism is the most potent social disease ever to hit this planet?

Does it make you cry to see . . .
A seasonal billboard perched above the doors of a
Toronto strip club reads: "50 Luscious Babes to Tease and Please You. Open Good Friday"[vi] ?

Does it make you cry to see a Mademoiselle magazine cover with the line: "Sin Is In and It's Okay."?

Do we cry tears of compassion over those who suffer due to child abuse, sexual violence, the futility of homelessness, misjustice, deception and fraud?

One pastor, who recounted a tragic tale of a family's loss of their son to drugs and homelessness, reflected, "I finally have come to believe that suffering and love come from the same place inside our souls.
 
If we did not love, there would be no suffering. We suffer and hurt and weep for our kids late into the night only because we care for them. Sam hurt more deeply than any parent I've been around because he loved as much as any parent I've ever known.
 
We get homesick because we love home so much. We shed tears over someone's death because we loved her living so much. Jesus wept because Jesus loved."[vii]

There is an icon of Michael the Archangel holding a transparent ball that, as the viewer regards the painting, magnifies the folds of the angel's robes. The globe looks like a great teardrop; it's imprinted with the initials of Christ and crowned with his cross; and it's through God's tears mingled with ours that we see, magnified, God's face;
 
It is through tears we know that beyond sorrow, laughter plunges to even greater depths in the abyss, and that the creation is too great a delight to God, too deep an expression of God's wisdom to be, in the end, anything but what God will delight in perfectly.[viii]
 
Prayer:
Teach us to pray our tears, O Lord. Absolve us of self-righteous pity that our hearts might carry the burdens which bring tears to your eyes. Help us to cry beyond our own needs. Receive our tears and transform them into the cup of agape love
Jesus poured out before all humankind in need of healing drink (KarinBacon). Amen.
 
Rev. RosemaryStelz
First Presbyterian Church
Bastrop, Louisiana
 
 
 
 


[i] -- EugeneH.Peterson, Living the Message (San Francisco: HarperCollins,1996) 304.
[ii] (For other examples of pars pro toto, see Walter Burkert, Creation of the Sacred: Tracks of Biology in Early Religions [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996].)
[iii] Matthew 27:46, 50; Mark 15:34, 37; Luke 23:46
[iv] (Consider the many depictions in the Old Testament of a God who woos his people, is sad when they rebel, and aches over their waywardness; in contrast to the frivolous and aloof gods and idols.)
[v] DominusFlevit
[vi] (As quoted in Donald C. Posterski, True to You [Winfield, Canada: Wood Lake Books, 1996], 79).
[vii] (R. Scott Colglazier, Finding a Faith That Makes Sense [St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1996],108-109).
[viii] -- MaggieRoss, The Fountain & the Furnace: The Way of Tears and Fire
(New York: Paulist Press, 1987), 292.
 
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