The Old Testament book of Deuteronomy reminds us, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land”. The reading community is told “If there is anyone of you in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted towards your needy neighbour. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be.”
This remarkable passage (Deut 15:1-11) adds a further twist implying that it’s worth keeping on the right side of your neighbour in case “your neighbour might cry to the Lord against you.” I may not have noticed this had I not read Psalm 56 alongside the Deuteronomy passage. There the Psalmist says “”You have counted up my groaning; put my tears into your bottle.” Tears count for God and he favours the one who cries.
David Runcorn reminded a group of us this week that tears count, and that they should be regarded as a spiritual gift. For Orthodox Christians they are a gift as important as the ability to speak in tongues. Bishop Kallistos Ware, in a chapter in Holy Tears: Weeping in the Religious Imagination, refers to Abba Makarios beginning an address with “Brethren, let us weep”. For Bishop Kallistos, it is only tears that count at the Last Judgement. (We can weep inwardly).
Hezekiah, king of Judah, prayed with tears. God prompts Isaiah to respond to Hezekiah’s prayer. He says, “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; I will heal you”. Jesus wept over Lazarus and Jerusalem, and one of Jerusalem’s sacred sites, the church of Dominus flevit (Jesus wept) treasures that moment. There is a time to cry, and that is this time. The Psalmist says “those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy” (Ps 126:5) and it is only in the fullness of time that God will wipe every tear from every eye (only those who are crying?), and “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” (Rev. 21:4)
My own concern is my own increasing difficulty to cry. I am not easily enough moved to tears. Have my tears stopped because I have been used to managing grief and to managing lament and complaint? Have I preferred a quiet life? Have I changed sides? Do I side with the oppressor? And, as a society, have we put our fingers in our ears against the cries of the poor? Have we justified our tight-fistedness by austerity measures? The counting of tears doesn’t seem to be part of the economic measures we adopt, in stark contrast to the measures outlined in Deuteronomy, the Psalms and throughout scripture. Sadly, in our culture, crying is a shame.
I think I am ready, for the moment at least, to pray. “O Lord, hear our prayer, and let our cry come to you.”
PS. The photo of the church of Dominus Flevit is by Gashwin and shows clearly the tear bottles on the corners of the building used for measuring and treasuring tears. The photo of the Crying Giant is by Chris Murphy.