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For Crying Out Loud (sermon)

June 23, 2013

brokenLuke 7:36 – 8:3

Two characters: One person crying and another person feeling awkward about it. I wonder who you found yourself identifying with as you listened to the story? Let’s begin with the person crying.

What do our tears tell us about ourselves? The following is a reflection by Frederick Buechner:


You never know what may cause them. The sight of the Atlantic Ocean can do it, or a piece of music, or a face you’ve never seen before. A pair of somebody’s old shoes can do it. Almost any movie made before the great sadness that came over the world after the Second World War, a horse cantering across a meadow, the high school basketball team running out onto the gym floor at the start of a game. You can never be sure. But of this you can be sure. 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, if your soul is to be saved, you should go to next.


Frederick Buechner b.1926

Whistling in the Dark: A Doubter’s Dictionary


Do you cry at movies? I usually don’t. But that’s partly because I try very hard not to cry at movies… why not? It’s a man thing, right? By why do men try not to cry at movies? What about women?

I suspect often for me it’s that I’m not wanting to admit that the movie moved me. I’m so wanting to believe that I am in charge of my own life.

Emotions are moments when we know we are not in control.

I guess that’s why they are moments of truth…

Similarly, I think, when a scientist is searching for a solution to a problem. They don’t know where they are going. They don’t know the answer. They follow the evidence and their intuition. In that sense they are quite out of control. That’s why they get called absent minded professors. Scientific truth is the product of a deeply emotional process, a process of being out of control. Same with poets and artists of all kinds… it’s all about having ones habits interrupted, being moved…

Maybe even to tears…

We’re Protestants, right, we don’t like talking about emotions, or about sex, or about the body. We come from a tradition with an emphasis on the mind, where salvation has often been seen as a result of believing certain truths. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved is probably a verse many of us grew up with.

Which is a terrible caricature of the faith… the ancient church knew that to be saved by God was to desire more not less. To love God with all ones heart and mind, and strength and soul and to love ones neighbour as oneself. It’s not about putting your heart in a box and sealing the lid. It’s about bigger desire… not less.

Emotion is everywhere… science and art… we are not in control of our lives, even if we try to be and pretend we are… but its not scientific discoveries or artistic insights that move us to tears usually… its relationships, its hurts and delights of human relationships. Tears are usually about our place in the network of our relationships… Which brings us back to the woman in our story.

Where do her tears come from? What moved her?

Jesus answers this question for us by picking up on the body language of his host Simon the Pharisee. Simon is deeply uncomfortable with this drama unfolding. He is thinking “doesn’t Jesus know this woman is a sinner”. That’s Simon’s word for her. We are not told what kind of sin she is supposed to have committed… but the tradition fairly quickly decided they knew and called her a prostitute, often identifying her with Mary Magdalene. But we are told none of that.


Jesus answers Simon’s unspoken question with a parable in which he compares Simon the Pharisee with the Woman at his feet. Simon has already compared himself with her. She is a sinner… and by implication he is not. Jesus flips this on his head. He likens her to one whose love is great for she has been forgiven much.

Notice he doesn’t deny that she is a sinner… in fact it’s his word too.


Jesus says

47Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love



Although Jesus does declare that day in the Pharisees house that the woman’s sins are forgiven, this is not the first time he has said that to her. Her love is the result of prior interaction. Jesus has been spending time with this woman. Somehow… and perhaps we should reflect on how… somehow he has already persuaded her that God has forgiven her. And I suspect it took some persuading. That no matter how much her life is a disappointment to her or even to God, God is still moving towards her giving her life and grace. That God is not to be feared as a God of vengeance but to be adored as the Father of love, and that means that she too is part of the family, part of the human race, a child of God, if she will let herself be, that she too is a wonder and a delight to God. Somehow Jesus has convinced her of that… in his teaching and in his attitude and action and is befriending her. .

So she has prepared for this moment. An alabaster Jar is a fancy jar. She might be some sort of sinner but she is not without resources. She has done some preparation. It took some planning to insinuate herself into that party, to which she wasn’t invited. But for all the preparation and thought that went into getting to the meal, she is overcome by emotion all the same.

And this flow of emotion is part of the healing powers of conversion in her life. Forgiveness and healing create moments like that. We discover that all our best controlled efforts are not saving us.

So in turning the tables on Simon the Pharisee, Jesus highlights the difference between him and the woman on the floor kissing his feet.

She knows herself as a sinner in the eyes of a God who loves her and embraces her and offers her a fullness of life. She is overcome with gratitude

He knows himself as a more or less righteous man, certainly not as much of a sinner as her, doing his best and ambitious for greater things (like taking on this Rabbi from Galilee in a theological argument)

She knows she is a sinner, forgiven, and her emotion flows in gratitude

He doesn’t know he is a sinner.

Unlike the women he doesn’t appear to be overcome with emotion, but his attitude is not without emotion. He is anxious to impress both God and the gathered company (including Jesus). Deep down his emotion before God is one of fear and not love.

She doesn’t care what people are thinking. He is deeply conscious of what people are thinking

The woman trusted this stranger, she trusted his God and from that trust flowed healing and life. Or, as Jesus put it in the end:

“Your faith has saved you. Go in peace”. And so the story ends… except the lectionary adds another quite different piece in from the beginning of the next chapter. Let me remind you how it goes

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.


The woman on the floor at the banquet is one of many women who went with Jesus, many woman whose lives were now moved with gratitude to Jesus. We often think of Jesus simply wandering the countryside with 12 men, but todays text quietly reminds us that there were many women, some of them women of means. Their gratitude and the emotion that it created didn’t stop with words or even with tears but flowed into freedom to action and offer practical provision.


Paul writes to the Christians in Galatia:

I have been crucified with the Messiah; and it is no longer I who live, (I am no longer in control of my life) but it is the Messiah who lives in me. And the life I still live in the flesh I live within the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

(Gal 2: 19b-20)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jillian permalink
    June 24, 2013 1:17 am

    Thank you Bruce – I had tears in my eyes at church when we sang “Come as You Are”.

  2. June 24, 2013 1:44 am

    such an appropriate song for the occasion eh!

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