4. A Weeping King

Meditations in David’s Psalms : 4 :  A Weeping King  – Psa 6

Psa 6:6   I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.

Bear in mind what we have said previously about this warrior but who is described as a man after God’s own heart. It is only by holding both those aspects before us that we can understand David and his psalms. I always remember David’s response when Joab and his brother Abishai murdered Abner and David declared, “And today, though I am the anointed king, I am weak, and these sons of Zeruiah are too strong for me.” (2 Sam 3:39) David was a strong warrior but again and again he indicated he was not harsh and did not look for death.  David is an emotional man and his psalms are packed with emotions. Catch a sense of them as we work through this psalm.

Verses 1 to 4 are clearly prayer addressed to the Lord and that may also include verses 5 to 7 but it is unclear. Verses 8 to 10 are clearly spoken outwards.

David’s prayer is essentially for the Lord to lift off from him what he is feeling and what he is going through for he feels it could be the Lord’s doing, rebuking and disciplining him: “O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath.” (v.1)  He doesn’t give any indication why this might be happening to him but whatever it is, he pleads for the Lord not to be against him

He opens up a little of what he is going through: “Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am faint; O LORD, heal me, for my bones are in agony.” (v.2) He appears to be in physical agony, he appears to have some form of illness that is bringing him down. How many of us have felt similarly?  His whole being feels it: “My soul is in anguish. How long, O LORD, how long?” (v.3) When you feel ill there is no escaping it, it impinges on your whole being. Is this why Jesus healed so many people, that he knew the prison that they were in?

David continues to cry out: “Turn, O LORD, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love.” (v.4) When he says, “Turn, O Lord,” he echoes what so many of us feel when we are going through something similar, that the Lord is facing away from us, paying no attention to our plight, and we want to cry out, Lord, I’m over here, can you not see what is happening? He knows that God has the power to deliver him from this sickness. How many of us have been there? I know the Lord has the power to heal because Jesus healed so many, so why will he not heal me? But in the midst of it we are sure He still loves us.

He adds some logic to his plea to the Lord: “No one remembers you when he is dead. Who praises you from the grave?” (v.5) There are shades of Job about this. What is the point of me dying? How can I praise you if I am dead? Come and heal me!  Like Job, the depths of his anguish start to come out: “I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.” (v.6)  When you are in pain and suffering with illness it doesn’t stop at night and you cannot help groaning from time to time; it is just the body’s way of trying handle it.

But there is a feeling now coming out here of something more. When we are physically ill, we are also made weak emotionally. Depression is so easily linked with physical illness. Vulnerability is particularly prevalent when you are feeling physically down and this tough warrior weeps throughout the night. He weeps and weeps and weeps. What could cause such a depth of anguish? Well partly, no doubt, it is what we have been saying already – he is physically weak and that leaves him emotionally drained. But that is only part of it; see what follows. “My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes.” (v.7) Ah! There is the second thing – people! We don’t know who or what, for he doesn’t say, but in his emotional weakness he is in no state to withstand the negatives that come from other people. Whoever or whatever, he feels utterly down because of them.

But then at the end of this psalm we find this same thing we find in so many of David’s psalms. There is no keeping him down. Even in the midst of anguish, tears and crying out to the Lord, something in him rises up: “Away from me, all you who do evil, for the LORD has heard my weeping.” (v.8)  Get lost!  James wrote, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (Jas 4:7) Resist the devil, tell him where to go, and he will flee. Powerful words, but there has to be something in us that will reach out to God, grab a sense of His word for us so that faith rises, and then we stand and defy the enemies of the Lord.

David has come to a place of assurance: “The LORD has heard my cry for mercy; the LORD accepts my prayer.” (v.9) He suddenly has this inner assurance yet again. It seems he goes through this process again and again in his life: struggles come, he cries to the Lord in weakness, and then assurance breaks through. This assurance develops into confidence: “All my enemies will be ashamed and dismayed; they will turn back in sudden disgrace.” (v.10) It’s sorted!  The Lord has heard and so the Lord WILL deal with them; I’ve got nothing more to worry about! Hallelujah!

24. Mourning/Dancing

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 24 :  A Time for Mourning or Dancing

Eccles 3:4 a time to mourn and a time to dance,

These sayings seem so obvious but perhaps there is far more to them than we see at first glance. A time to mourn?  Of course when someone dies!  That is very obvious. Is it? For whom do we genuinely mourn?  We mourn if someone close to us dies. No problem! We perhaps attend the funeral of someone who lives down the road that we vaguely knew who dies. Perhaps we aren’t so moved emotionally but we felt we ought to attend. Real mourning is a heart thing; it’s when we are sincerely moved by the loss of another person. We mourn because of loss, because of the fact that this world has lost a good person, a person who has meant much to us, who has said and done things that have impacted our lives.

Sometimes, to be quite honest, those feelings are distinctly shallow, such as when we feel moved by the death of a character in a film or TV series, yet we have become involved with them in our watching and we sense loss when they die. At other times we bottle up our feelings because we feel that if we let it all out, our pain and sense of loss will go on and on and on. I can only imagine the loss of the one who is closest to you. I dread the thought of my wife dying before me because I love her so much and I can’t imagine what it could be like to live without her, yet perhaps you are in that very situation where there is still a deep ache at the emptiness that you know because the one you loved so much has gone.

Putting it like that, makes me think of those of us who have lost a loved one because they have walked out on us. That is even worse than if they died because the sense of loss is also polluted with the sense of rejection and abandonment and that does indeed make it worse. That also is a time to mourn for it is the death of a relationship and it may have been, from your side, a good relationship right up to the end. And then it abruptly ended as they confessed there was someone else and they were leaving you for them. Devastation!  In a case like this, and in the case of a premature and abrupt death, it is made worse and the sense of mourning is made worse, by the speed and abruptness of it.

Perhaps it was an illness and they were told, “I’m sorry you only have weeks to live.” The speed of it made it so much worse. Or perhaps they didn’t come home and the first you knew was when the police arrived and told you of the accident. Death of a loved one, in whatever form it comes, is shocking. It is the sense that they just won’t be there with you any longer that is the devastating thing. You turn to say a word, but they are not there, and you mourn. Mourning isn’t something that just happens at the funeral. It is something that, for many of us, goes on for a much longer time. How do we cope?

Paul described God as, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.” (2 Cor 1:3,4)  God understands and as we turn to Him, in some way beyond explanation, He does comfort us. Somehow His grace flows and, although the ache is still there, we cope. It’s right to mourn for close loss. It’s right to cry. It’s right to feel loss and ache. There is a time to mourn. We’re not called to stiff-upper-lip stoicism. We are human beings with feelings and when there is love, there will be strong emotional feelings of loss when they are gone. It is right to mourn. There is a time to mourn.

We quoted the verse yesterday: weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Psa30:5). There will be an end to the deep anguish, as God comforts us, we may still have the ache of loss, of being alone, but the deep anguish is no longer with us. The Victorians, I believe, had a set period for mourning and ladies would wear black during that time and it was only when they came to the end of that time could they be seen to join in wider company and be seen to be enjoying themselves. There was a sense that it was proper to sustain an appropriate period of solemnity to honour the lost one. We no longer do that and more often we try to encourage people to ‘move on in life’, recognizing that life has got to continue, but it’s a difficult thing.

Dancing is an expression of outward pleasure and even joy. There will come again a time when it is right to express and genuinely feel outward pleasure and joy. It is not disrespectful to the memory of our loved one. It’s just that we have to get on with life, and life with all its emotions. Dancing and joy are for times when there is an absence of sense of loss, an absence of anguish. You can’t be happy while the anguish is still there, but time and the Lord do bring healing so that we can laugh again.  Yes, as we’ve said in recent days, life is a kaleidoscope of events, circumstances and feelings, and they all have a right time.

You can’t laugh and dance when you are mourning, but mourning shouldn’t go on for ever. You shouldn’t mourn when it’s a time of happiness. We can’t mourn for someone else, or on their behalf. Mourning is what you feel. If you don’t feel the anguish of loss, don’t try and pretend.  Jesus knew this when he said, How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” (Mt 9:15) While he was still with them, it was to be a time of rejoicing. When he had gone that could be the time of mourning.

Mourning can not only be the death of a person, but the death of a ministry, or the loss of something precious. When a great man falls morally, that is a time for mourning. When a great woman falls morally, that too is a time for mourning. It is right to feel anguish for the downfall of a great life, even when they are still alive. Feelings are a gift from God and they allow us to reflect the reality of life. Sometimes that will be joy, but sometimes, when there is a loss of life, that will be mourning. There is a time for mourning and a time for dancing, and they are not the same time! That’s what life is like; that’s how we are made.

28. Weeping Mary

People who met Jesus : 28 :  Weeping Mary

Mt 26:6-13 While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

I have often had to make comment about contradictions in the Bible – or rather the absence of true contradictions. If there is an account that might come in the line of fire of those who are looking for contradictions, this passage is one such.  There is a similar account in Luke 7:36-39 and another in John 12:1-8. The key point about contradictions is that they need to be specific opposites of information. Simply different information is different reporting styles. Let’s see what we have here.

In Matthew and Luke there is an unnamed woman who comes with a jar of perfume. In John she is named as Mary, presumably the sister of Martha and Lazarus, who were both there. Matthew and John both identify the location as Bethany. Matthew says it was the home of Simon the Leper, while Luke says it was the home of a Pharisee and John doesn’t say whose home it was. In Matthew she pours the perfume over Jesus’ head, in John she pours it on his feet and in Luke we aren’t told what she did with it.

In Matthew the disciples object to the waste, in John it is Judas who is identified as the objector (and Jesus does use some same words in both), and in Luke it is the Pharisee who questions Jesus’ ability to discern the state of this woman. In Matthew the woman isn’t described, in John she is simply described as Mary, but in Luke she is described as a woman who had lived a sinful life. My own view on these accounts is that there are such similarities that we must be talking about the same incident – in Bethany, at dinner, perfume, and a woman.

I may be wrong and I know some commentators think we have different incidents here, but I have no problem synthesising the information in the three accounts. So Simon, who had previously been a leper is now a Pharisee. Mary, sister of Martha, didn’t have a good history (often in the Lazarus; account in Jn 11 we just think of them as nice people, but that isn’t necessarily so). It is quite probable that the Synoptic writers don’t name to woman to protect her, whereas John was writing so much later it is probable that she (and Lazarus) were no longer alive when he wrote.  The rest of the points are simply different emphases being made by the different writers.

So let’s focus now on the woman. Let’s suppose she was the Mary we’ve already considered in the Luke account of Mary and Martha in an earlier meditation. She had previously sat at Jesus’ feet and if Luke 7 is the same incident, she bathes in the love of the Master who has accepted and forgiven her past (had Martha previously invited Jesus to their home to talk some sense into Mary?)

THE crucial thing about these accounts and about her is that she had expensive perfume and she poured it out on Jesus as she wept over him. Was she weeping for her own sins or because she sensed that something awful is about to happen to Jesus. Here we have a woman moved by emotion into an extravagant action that received censure from both some of the disciples and the host. From Jesus she only receives acceptance. He is simply blessed by her action.

For those of us who have nice controlled unemotional lives, we may struggle with this woman. In fact we may struggle with anyone who expresses emotion in their spiritual life. I remember the testimony of one of our (now) elderly members who, when he first came to us many years ago, was embarrassed by the emotion he found being expressed by the congregation in worship. Worship should be a volitional and emotional expression if it is real worship. The psalms are full of emotion and emotions must have been fully operational when Jesus was performing so many miracles on a daily basis. Thankfulness, praise and wonder must have been the order of the day.

There is an even lovelier reason for raw emotion to be expressed which Jesus highlighted when he chided his guest in Luke’s ongoing account: Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.” (Lk 7:41-43) and then referring to her past Jesus declared, “I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” (Lk 7:47) Wow! There’s the truth. Those who are conscious of their past sins are really grateful when they are forgiven and saved. Those who think they are all right, love little for, as John was to write, “We love because he first loved us.” (Jn 4:19)

This is an account of a woman who had an unsavoury past but who was loved and accepted by Jesus and so was thankful, so thankful that she literally poured out her love over Jesus, using perfume. Extravagant love is what God looks for. May He find it in us!

Signs of Love

Readings in Luke Continued – No.31

Lk 7:44-47 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

I want to suggest that there is a sign of love in this passage that is not obvious but crucial once we really start thinking about what was going on here. The obvious love is that which Jesus spoke about – “for she loved much”. Jesus is using her apparent love in direct comparison with Simon’s attitude. Simon had invited Jesus to dinner but had, according to customs of the time, given him the barest of considerations. Today, if we invited someone in at the end of a hot day, we might point them towards the bathroom and say, “Would you like to just freshen up?” In other words we would give them the opportunity to use our things to clean up and feel better. In their day, with dusty roads and sandals, an honoured guest would have their feet washed by the servants of the house; that was the barest minimum you would do for them. If you wanted to really bless them you would given them oil for their head, rather like we put things on our hair to tidy up. But Simon had done none of these things. He gave Jesus minimal hospitality, because he was really only inviting him in to find grounds to criticise him.

The apparent love that Jesus spoke about, contrasting Simon’s poor attitude was that of the woman. Remember we saw in earlier verses she was well known and had “lived a sinful life in that town,” (v.37), quite possibly a prostitute – but she had come seeking out Jesus. There would have been no other reason that she would enter this house of a Pharisee because, like her, he was probably well known in this small town, and she would have know that she was the very opposite of everything he stood for, and would have been the subject of his condemnation. She has obviously heard about Jesus and, it would appear, was sufficiently desperate that she didn’t mind what people thought or might say. No, she came looking for Jesus and when she found him, she stood behind him weeping.

Now we speculated before why she was crying. Was it that she was so desperate? Was it that when she found Jesus, he simply smiled up at her, a smile of acceptance that broke her heart? Was she overwhelmed by the sense of God’s presence and it was a beautiful, accepting presence, so that her heart was melted and she knew she was accepted. We don’t know, we just have to speculate because Luke doesn’t tell us. Whatever else, she felt secure by Jesus. Presumably he had acknowledged her presence in some way and so she remains with him and just weeps and then wipes his wet feet with her tears and then gently rubs perfume into them. Whatever she felt when she came in, whatever had been her motivation then, now it is love in the awareness of being accepted.

Isn’t one of the preliminary facets of love being accepted by the other person? When you meet another person, your relationship cannot develop unless they accept you, and indeed the more they get to know you, the relationship will only develop if you both accept each other as you are. For real love to develop there must first be complete acceptance of each other as we are.

So the obvious love is the woman’s love that Jesus speaks about, a love that has quickly developed and which flows from the way Jesus has just accepted her. John was later to write, “We love because he first loved us,” (1 Jn 4:19) which explains what went on here. The less obvious love, because it is not spoken about, is Jesus’ love of this woman, seen first in the way he accepts her ministrations, while knowing exactly who she is. But I think there is a second way that his love is demonstrated here: it is the way he interprets her actions. It isn’t just to make Simon feel bad, it is a genuine interpretation of her actions. He sees them in the best light possible. Love always looks for the best in a person and sees what they say and do in the best possible way. Yes, it is possible that the woman came in with mixed motives, possibly ready to pay Jesus for help, possibly not even sure why she was there, but the more she remains with him, the more her heart goes out to him as she senses the warmth of his acceptance. It doesn’t matter if she wept out of anguish, it doesn’t matter if she wiped his feet out of embarrassment, it doesn’t matter if she put on the perfume out of guilt, Jesus saw it all positively. It’s like he might have said, “I don’t mind why you did it all; I just take it as an expression of your growing love, and for that I am grateful.” That’s how love responds and that’s why Jesus spoke as he did here to Simon in our verses today. In today’s language we might say he was putting a positive spin on it, but then that’s what love does.

But we always say that we need to look at what Scripture says to us personally. What does this response of Jesus say to us? Well I find it a challenge. Do I look for the best in people? Do I look to see what they say and do in the best light? Do I accept people like Jesus did so that they feel secure with me, safe and able to be themselves? Am I there for the underdog who is condemned by the safe, secure and affluent part of society? Am I willing to be associated with them, even when everyone else is condemning them? Am I so concerned for their salvation that I am willing to risk my reputation to reach out to them with God’s love? These, surely, are the key issues that leap out of this account that Luke brings to us and these are issues that I must deal with in my life, if I am truly to be a disciple of Jesus. May it be so!

Compassion in Action

Readings in Luke Continued – No.27

Lk 7:11-13 Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

To try to fathom out why God works in the way He does sometimes, seems an almost impossible task. To try to work out why the sin of this fallen world afflicts some and not others is, again, an impossible task. I take heart from the little incident in John 9:1-3: “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” Here were the disciples confronted by an effect of the fallen world in the form of this man born blind. They want to know why but Jesus refuses to blame the man’s parents and just says, “Let’s just take such things as opportunities for God to bless, and for God to be glorified.”

I say these things in the light of Luke’s account of this incident in the town of Nain in the southern half of Galilee. It is an account that none of the other Gospels mention, but it is obviously something that Luke heard about as he was researching for his Gospel and it clearly touched his heart. It is a simple account, of Jesus arriving at the town at the moment when a funeral procession comes out the city gates, presumably on the way to bury the body. Now, in the absence of any information to the contrary, we are going to have to assume that Jesus used what we now call a word of knowledge because he is moved by the circumstances here and no one seems to have told him what is going on – but it is very significant.

The body that is being taken for burial is of a son (child, or young man we don’t know) and, more than that, he is the only son of this family which makes it doubly hard. But it gets worse; this family has already lost the father. This family now only comprises one surviving member, the wife and mother who is now enduring her second funeral. But there is more. There is a large crowd with this woman. She is well known, popular. She is a good woman – but death takes no account of good people at times it seems.

It is these facts, we suggest, which moved Jesus to action. We are told, “his heart went out to her.” Again and again we find in the Matthew’s Gospel that Jesus was moved by ‘compassion’ (Mt 9:36, 14:14, 15:32, 20:34). Luke uses the word compassion only once, in the parable of the prodigal son when the son comes back and we read, “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son.” (Lk 15:20). It was compassion that moved the father in the story and compassion that moves The Father in respect of us. But here in our verses we have the same thing, compassion defined if you like – his heart went out to her.

We find in this, and in the other amazing verses about Jesus’ compassion, that we find ourselves with a God who is moved to action, not by logical deductions of the mind, but by emotions. God feels with us!

In the famous ‘shortest verse’ in John 11:35 when ‘Jesus wept‘ there is a sense in the original that this weeping was tinged with anger at the impact of sin, having taken his friend Lazarus prematurely. His tears were an acknowledgement of his feelings of anguish for this people and their loss because of the effects of sin in this fallen world. Could there have been another way, the Godhead would have surely thought of it, but free will was part of the design that made such things as ‘love’ meaningful, and the price was sin in the world and Calvary. Oh no, the Father doesn’t stand at a distance, He feels and He is moved.

Back prior to the Exodus we find the Lord speaking to Moses at the burning bush: “The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.” Do you see that last part? God doesn’t only see and hear what goes on, He feels!

So here we have this account that moves Luke’s heart for he includes it when none of the others did. He’s a people person, we’ve said, and he’s moved by human drama and here is human drama at its best – or worst. It is a woman who has had the two men she loves snatched from her by death. Why didn’t Jesus save the husband as well, ask the unthinking sceptics? Because he wasn’t there and can’t be there (in human form) for every person. But he was here on this occasion and being God in human form, he can exercise his authority on the earth and bring back life – simply because he was moved by the situation. There is no wondering about why these tragedies had struck this family. There are no carping judgments about this family and ‘what they must have been up to to deserve this’!

No, the Son of God is simply moved by the woman’s plight and acts accordingly as we’ll see in the next meditation. He sees, he understands, he feels and he acts. You never have to twist God’s arm to understand your plight – He does! You’re not alone in your feelings – He feels with you. That is the wonder of the God with whom we have to do. This IS God. Yes, there are no doubt many other questions we could fire into discussions about evil in the world but they’re dealt with elsewhere. Here we simply pause and wonder at the fact that our Lord and Saviour feels for us and with us. Let’s be grateful.