Andrew McFarland Campbell  

And began to wash his feet with her tears

These exhortations were given by me between 1999 and 2005. That was a long time ago, and I have grown a lot since then. They may not reflect my current beliefs.

I want to start this morning with two verses from Luke Chapter 7. Luke 7, verses 37 and 38, the woman who washed Christ’s feet with her tears.

And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.

This woman is greatly moved by meeting Christ. We don’t know how much she understood about him, but she recognised him as the Messiah. And she washed his feet with her tears. There is more to that statement that we realise.

At various times during history, including Biblical times, during times of great grief or distress, people, particularly women, collected their tears of grief into small bottles. Sometimes if your husband was away at war, you would collect your tears to show him when he returned. Victorian women left the bottles open and were in mourning until all the tears had evaporated. Roman mourners would fill small tear bottles and put them into the tombs as a sign of respect.

In Biblical times, tear bottles were sealed and kept in a prominent place in the house, and when you died your tear bottles were buried with you. A tear bottle was an intensely personal and sacred object that reminded you of your grief.

There are so many things that can cause grief: death, loss, illness, and of course a knowledge of our own sin. Each of us has experienced the death of a loved one, each of us will have lost someone or some thing we love, each of us has been ill, sometimes seriously. And of course, each of us has sinned, and each of us has felt the terrible grief at that failure brings.

Think about David and his sin with Bathsheba. He didn’t realise what he had done until confronted by Nathan. When he realised, he was devastated. We know the story well, but I’ll read a few verses from 2 Samuel 12 to remind us:

Verse 5:

And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die

Verse 7:

And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man.

Verse 14:

Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.

Verses 16 and 17:

David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth. And the elders of his house arose, and went to him, to raise him up from the earth: but he would not, neither did he eat bread with them.

Verse 22:

And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether GOD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?

David endured terrible grief because of his sin with Bathsheba. Could David have collected his tears in a bottle? We know from Psalm 56 verse 8 that he was aware of the practice. Turn to Psalm 51. David wrote this Psalm after being confronted by Nathan.

Psalm 51 verses 1 to 4:

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

“My sin is ever before me.” Could David have been looking at his bottled tears as he wrote those words? Could he have had his tears before him, in a prominent place in his palace, a continual reminder to him of what he had done. Thinking about it that way certainly puts an interesting perspective on the words “My sin is ever before me” doesn’t it? He had done something terrible, and could never forget it.

Lets think about the woman from Luke 7 again. You need a reasonable amount of water to wash someone’s feet. You can’t really do it with just one lot of tears. Yes, she was weeping as she washed Christ’s feet. Could she not also have brought her tear bottles, filled with tears of mourning and tears of repentance?

The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. This woman knew she didn’t need her tear bottles, reminders of her grief, because Christ’s work meant an end to death, and Christ’s work meant a blotting out of sins. If God could blot out sin through the work of Christ then there was no reason man to keep reminders of what he had done.

The woman was coming to Christ with bottles of tears. “Look,” she was saying, “I am a sinful woman, and I am ashamed, but because of you I can pour out my sin and it is effectively no more. Because of you I don’t have to remember my sorrow and grief.”

And Christ spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

The woman was like the publican, and she wept at Christ’s feet because she knew of God’s mercy. She knew that through the work of the man whose feet she washed grief and suffering would come to an end.

Each of us has experienced the death of a loved one – but in the Kingdom of God there will be no more death – each of us will have lost someone or some thing we love – but eye has not seen nor ear heard what God has prepared for those who love him – each of us has been ill, sometimes seriously – but in the Kingdom they shall run and not be weary, walk and not faint. And of course, each of us has sinned, and each of us has felt the terrible grief at that failure brings. But because of Christ our sins may be blotted out, and our heavenly Father forgives us. In the Kingdom of God we will be stronger and able to completely resist temptation.

That is what this woman was teaching us by washing Christ’s feet with her tears.

There is really only one passage I can end with. Revelation 21 verses 1 to 4:

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

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