Luke records that “a woman in the city who was a sinner” entered a house where Jesus was, and “began to wash His feet with tears” (7:37, 38).
There are many ancient references to the custom of collecting the tears of the whole family, and preserving them in bottles.
In Psalm 56:8, David refers to tear bottles.
Tear bottles have been found in very large numbers in aged tombs. They are usually made of thin glass, or pottery vessels of the very poor, not even baked or glazed. They were all made with a slender body, broad at the base, with a funnel-shaped top.
Each member of the family owned a tear bottle, and they collected tears of the whole family. When serious trouble or death occurred in the home, all the relatives came, and each one brought his tear bottle with him. As they wept and wailed, the tears rolling down their cheeks, each person took his or her tear bottle and gathered tears from the faces of all present.
This bottle was extremely valued and sacred to them.
It represented all the heartaches, sorrows, and bereavements from the grandparents down to the small child. When a person died, his tear bottle was buried with him as one of his most sacred possessions.
This helps us to better understand what the woman did for Christ.
She noticed the very discourteous way in which He was treated as a guest in the house of Simon, the Pharisee. He provided no water to wash the Lord’s feet, and no oil to anoint His head; so this poor, sinful woman, searching for forgiveness and a new life, took her tear bottle, poured the tears over His tired, dusty feet, and wiped them with her long hair.
A great sacrifice indeed, done in love and thankfulness to the Savior. They could not be replaced, and she might die without a bottle of tears to be buried with her in her tomb. Yet,
“She washed His feet with tears!” 1
“You can measure the value of a person’s faith by how much that person is prepared to sacrifice for it” (Spurgeon). 2
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- Barbara M. Bowen, Strange Scriptures That Perplex the Western Mind, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, Copyright 1952, pp. 23 – 24
- Tom Carter, Spurgeon’s Commentary on Great Chapters of the Bible, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI, 49501, Copyright 1998, p. 124