Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Church, Fundamentalism, God, Grace, Inspiration, Jesus, Life, Praise, Religion, Spirituality, Wholeness
Today is father’s day and I have been reflecting a lot on my own father. There is so much to the complicated relationship between a father and a child. Competition, worry, anger, pride, silence, expectations, comfort and care are only a fraction of the many aspects of this ever-complex relationship. Yet, no matter which emotion you find yourself with your father on this father’s day, they remain your father.
My father is a collector. I do not know exactly what year these collecting habits began, but over the years it has grown and expanded. Quite often some of these collections accompanied my father to an antique show or flea market to sale. Yet, there they are separated into their own boxes, storage space, a closet safe or on the surface of cabinets and tables.
Much of these growing collections found their origin from a little pawnshop on the edge of Lincoln, Nebraska’s poorest community named T-town. A bearded man named Solomon owned this small shop. It was not quite a junk shop, but it was cluttered and filled with a varied assortment of both antiques and items of value that would have made a needy person a quick dollar. No matter when we visited Solomon always had something of interest for my father.
“Hey, Lee someone brought in a box of old postcards. Would you be interested in the whole lot?” He would say reaching behind the counter for a beat up shoebox.
“Let’s take a look” my father would reply focusing seriously on the box’s content. One by one my father would seriously examine each for its individual value. After separating out a few exceptional postcards he would ask, “How much for these ones?”
The postcards would be paid for and placed in a small bag. Eventually they would find there way into a binder filled with clear plastic sheets that held many other postcards. Each postcard sorted according to holiday, vacation or location. Then when my father rented a booth at a flea market he would merely bring each binder and sell the postcards individually.
During my childhood our house was filled with collections like this. Silver spoons purchased on long forgotten vacations, mechanical pens, political buttons, coins and tin soldiers were separated into their own little boxes. Yet, the one collection that started it all usually staid in the back of a large china cabinet. My father started collecting bottles. It had started when while digging one day he found a group of buried bottles. Over time his collection included bottles of varying types. These bottles were either hand blown, machine made, clear, brown or cobalt blue. These bottles were originally used for many different functions and some still had their labels affixed to their face. I was always fascinated by the bottles with tiny skulls and crossbones.
One bottle in particular holds a special place in my father’s bottle collection. It is skinny, about 12 inches long and could have only held a small amount of liquid. It was a Victorian tear bottle. Tear bottles have been a used ever since ancient Rome and Egypt. Mourners would fill tiny bottles with their tears and bury them with their loved ones to show honor and devotion.
The Victorian tear bottle had a different function. The mourner would fill the bottle with tears and put a special stopper on the bottle. The tears would eventually evaporate which signaled that the mourning period was now over. The tears were gone but the bottle was kept as a reminder of eternal devotion.
Every time I held that bottle in my hand I wondered whose tears it had contained. I would smell it to see if there were any remnants left of those ancient tears. Who was the subject of all those tears? Those were questions and thoughts that would never have any answer only the assumption that it was used for someone’s great mourning.
In Luke 7 there is a curious story in which a woman bathes Jesus feet with her tears and ointment. I always think of that bottle when I read this story. I wonder what her great sin could have been? Obviously something in her life has reduced her to tears and the derisive comments of the religious establishment. As with many women in relationship to Jesus we are left with scant evidence of their stories, but are left with plenty of antidotes and responses by Jesus. We are left with the assumption her sins are so great that no holy person would take the chance of being touched by her.
This is where Jesus makes one of the most radical claims of his ministry. He claims that it is not perfection that deems you worthy of mercy, but your loving response to the great mercy and forgiveness you are already receiving. The miracle is that this so-called unworthy woman already knows that she is accepted. These are the source of her tears, ointment and kisses. So, Jesus statement “your faith has saved you; go in peace.” is not a divine edict but an acknowledgement of something this woman already realizes. She is acceptable.
In my more fundamentalist days this woman served as a template on how to be a servant to Christ. She was seen as one who groveled because of her great sinfulness and that was exactly what we should do when we truly encounter Christ. Nothing could be further than true from the good news that Jesus reveals through the unbridled praise of this woman. These are not tears of mourning, to be captured in a jar. These are tears of celebration, tears of thanksgiving in knowing she is impossibly accepted, these are tears and kisses to affirm the great mercy that flows through each of us from a loving God.
Sure we are imperfect, finite and marred creatures. We have a multitude of problems that if known might make us seem unacceptable. Yet, the closer that we come to a honest picture of our place on this earth the more thankful we become for the mercy that we find surrounding us in this life. This is when we find ourselves impossibly accepted by our loving God, accepted like this woman. It is so miraculous that it could just bring you tears of joy.
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