Scripture: Luke 7:11-17
I have a rule that I follow when I watch movies. I will not watch a movie that is designed to make me cry. I find myself scratching my head when someone recommends some tear-jerking emotional drama. They will say something like, “It is so good, but it will make you cry.” Then why on earth would I want to watch it?!? I do not particularly like my emotions being manipulated and played with by storytellers. I know there are some people who avoid movies that have spaceships on principle, and I am the same way about romantic movies that involve cancer or coming of age movies that involves dogs, because you know in both of those instances someone is dying in the saddest way possible. The problem is when I stumble into watching a movie that I did not know was going to make me cry. Pixar movies are really, really bad about this. For instance, Up, is an odd couple movies with a floating house. However, the first ten minutes is an entire love story that left me crying like a baby. In the first ten minutes! Inside Out, another Pixar movie, seriously needs a trigger warning for anyone who ever had to move to a new community as a child. Really at this point I should just assume that movies made by Pixar break my rule. Later this summer when I go with my family to see Finding Dory, I am just going in assuming that all of those fish are not going to make it to the end of the movie.
If I am being really honest though, the reason why I do not like tear jerkers, is that I do not particularly enjoy crying. I suppose it is a bit cliché and stereotypical to say that, but it is extremely true. There is a vulnerability that comes with crying, and that is by design. The act of crying is a bit odd. Humans are the only species in the world that sheds tears for emotional reasons or when we are in pain. The thought process behind this is to why we do this is because crying is a signal to all of those around us that we are in distress and we could use someone else to lean on. This morning’s scripture features a lot of crying, and when I initially read it, I was drawn to the words of Jesus, “Don’t cry.” This short story, one of three in the gospels where Jesus raises the dead, can teach us what to do when we have people in our lives crying.
In reading the words on the page, I do not think we fully understand just the full extent of crying that was going on in this morning’s scripture. In first century Israel (and to a similar extent in modern day middle east), wailing was not just a way to show grief it was a cultural expectation. When someone died one of the greatest ways they could be honored was to cry loudly. The more wailing, the more evidence there was that this is a person who should truly be missed. To this end it was actually possible to hire professional wailers. These were women who had perfected art of crying, so that when someone was buried it could be ensured that they had a chorus of crying that honored their memory. It was also a practice to collect tears in little vials. This proved that the tears shed at the loss of someone were not just crocodile tears but an expression of genuine grief.
I do not think anyone would have doubted this woman’s grief was genuine though. She had to endure the hardship of a parent losing a child. We do not know the age of the man, but Jesus who was in his 30’s calls him young. This implies that he might have been in his late teens to early 20s. Even in an era with a lower life expectancy, that is too young to die. If that was not hard enough, this scripture tells us that she was a widow. This means she was baring this loss alone, and in a family centric culture the death of her only son meant she had no one. Another element to this is that as a widow, her son was her only means of support. With his death, she faced a very uncertain and somewhat bleak future. This woman had reason to cry, she had reason to wail and wail loudly. In the midst of her grief and sorrow, Jesus comes and Luke records, “when the Lord saw, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”
Often the phrase “don’t cry.” Is not very comforting. We usually hear the phrase don’t cry, because someone does not want to hear crying. Siblings tell it to each other when their interactions go amiss, someone got hurt, and the other person is frantically saying “don’t cry” before mom and dad hear them. Parents tell kids don’t cry, because seriously dropping that one raisin on the floor is not a reason to get so upset. Adults tell each other don’t cry often as a form of tough love. The idea is that whatever the issue might be, it is not worth crying about or worse it implies the crier should not be crying in the first place because their emotional state does not warrant it. Often when we tell someone “don’t cry” we are being unfair because we are not acknowledging their need. Remember, crying is an uniquely human way that we express we need someone. When we say “don’t cry” we shut down the call for help, the call for validation, the call for acceptance that the other person is making. Jesus said “don’t cry”, but it was not to shut down the woman. Jesus told the woman not to cry, because she no longer had a reason to.
Jesus saw a woman crying, wailing from the depths of her soul, and Jesus did what we wish we could do when confronted with those kind of situations. He fixed it. He took away the woman’s pain and brought her son back from death. He made it so that the woman did not have to cry. When we are confronted by people in deep sorrow or tragic personal crisis, we want to do what Jesus did. We desperately want to fix the situation for them. But we are not the Messiah, we very rarely have the power to fix things for people. However, that does not stop us from trying. We encounter people in great pain, people awash in their own tears, and we try to fix it for them by saying the most unhelpful things. We tell them things like “everything happens for a reason”, “God will never give you more than you can handle”, and “I could never go through what you are going through.” This is not helpful for people in crisis. Telling a grieving mother that their child died for a reason is how you drive people away from God not bring them closer. Telling someone who feels like they are drowning in the hardships of life that God will not give them more than they can handle only makes them feel like a failure for not handling all that life is throwing at them. Saying something like I could never go through what you are going through has more to do with our own issues than trying to encourage someone who is hurting. We often say these things as a way to try and be helpful, but if you have ever been in deep crisis or grief then you know pithy saying are never as helpful as the person saying them intended.
In this morning’s scripture Jesus confronts a woman In grief and crisis, and he fixes it for her. We cannot do that, but we can still follow the example that Jesus sets. Verse 13 again states, “When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her.” Jesus saw the hurt and pain this woman was experiencing and he responded to her cries. When confronted with the woman’s grief Jesus did everything he could to help her. It just so happens as the very son of God, doing everything he could involve bringing the dead back to life. The example of Jesus that we should follow is having true and heartfelt compassion on people in pain or crisis and then doing all that we can in OUR power to help them.
We probably do not have the power to fix their situation, but we do have the power to help them. This means that instead of God wouldn’t give you more than you could handle we could say let me come over and do some laundry.” Something I know that I am very guilty of is telling people in crisis, if you need anything please let me know. I mean well, but that is not helpful. For someone in the midst of the crisis, they are crying. Remember, crying is an uniquely human biological response to bring people to us in in our time of need. Instead of telling people to reach out to us, we should seek to identify what we can do to help them and then just do it. Sometimes this means making food, helping with chores, watching kids, or providing transportation. This means doing things that might be an inconvenience to us, but we do them anyway. We do them because like Jesus, our heart should go out to these people. We do all in our power to help them because the followers of Christ that is what we do and that is who we are. We are the people who follow the example of Jesus and love people like Jesus loves them.
Sometimes the best that we can do is be present, and often times that is enough. I remember how this was true from the week I spent with Eric. Eric was the son of one of the members of the church I was serving as the youth minister at. I needed a chaperone who could drive a mini-bus while hauling a trailer. That narrowed my field of possible people down quite a bit, and I found someone who agreed as long as his grandson from North Carolina could come on the trip. The chaperone did not give me a lot of details, but just told me that Eric had a troubled home life. Eric was immature for his age, and this initially caused friction with the other teens. I kept urging them to be nice and accept Eric. I would tell them that Eric is in desperate need of a good week from home. I think his grandfather was also telling Eric to calm down and cool it because he did that while at the same time the group opened up to him. This all culminated on a night when our small group was just together, and Eric began to pour his heart out. He talked about the deep pain he felt over his parents divorce. He cried and cried as he talked about the inadequacy he felt, the guilt he felt, and the way that his heart was truly broken. He confessed that out of anger he just could not hold in anymore he committed acts of vandalism that had gotten him in trouble with the police. Exasperated and reeling for words, he finally asked, “What’s wrong with me?”
Understanding the gravity of the situation I raced for the perfect thing to say. Thank God that the Holy Spirit was present because one of the other spoke up and told Eric, “Nothing. I like you for you who are.” Those were the words, more than anything, were what he needed here. That small group of teenagers fully metaphorically and physically embraced him that evening, and there was truly a noticeable change in him. Six months later around Christmas, Eric was visiting his grandfather around Christmas and I got to catch up with him. Things had turned around for him, true healing had begun in his life, and he credited that mission trip over the summer as being the turning point. The teens did not have the perfect words and they did not try to fix his situation, they were simply present for him and it made all of the difference.
There is a decent chance that all of us know someone who is going through a great loss or crisis in their life. If we do not right now, then we will. When we have someone who is in our lives who is crying, may our hearts reach out to them. May we be able to say that, not because we want to fix them, but because we have heard their cries for help and we are responding by doing everything in our power to be there for them. May we be active and go out of our way to follow the example of Jesus and meet the needs of those suffering to the best ability. May we do more than offer simple platitudes or tell people to call us if they need something, but may we proactively serve people where they are at and provide for them out of extravagant love. If we do this, then I believe we will not have to tell people “don’t cry”. They will stop on their own, because we have heard their cries for help and we answered it loving them as extravagantly as God loves us.