This is part of our Lent series, “The Weeping Word“, where we look at different moments of crying, lament, and tears in the Scriptures.
To Timothy, my beloved child…
I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy.
—2 Timothy 1.2-4
Next week is Holy Week, the high (or low?) point of Lent, leading to the crescendo of Easter. It will be a time of darkness, reflection, lament, and meditation. But we’re not there yet. Before the seriousness of Holy Week arrives, I thought I’d share with you a funny memory that’s connected to our Lent series on tears in the Bible.
I was sitting in the little campus ministry Bible Study my junior year of college. Our style of Bible Study was simply sitting down with an eloquent, wise, and gifted pastor, and then walking verse-by-verse through a given book of the Christian Scriptures.
Having just finished nearly a year in the book of Romans, we were just starting our next book: 2 Timothy. Many scholars believe it was Paul’s last letter he wrote before he died. And he wrote it to the man he mentored more than any other we know about: Timothy, a young elder at the church in Ephesus who was still struggling to get this little church plant off the ground.
Anyway, we were going through the opening verses, and the pastor got to the section above, and asked: “So when Paul ‘recalls Timothy’s tears’, does anyone know what he’s talking about?”
The answer? Towards the end of the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit calls Paul to the most dangerous place he could possibly go: Jerusalem. Paul has been converting Jews all over the place, so the Jewish leaders are not very happy with him. But Paul must go. And so he calls all of the elders of Ephesus together (and Timothy is one of them), and tells them where is going and that they will probably never see him again. He asks for prayer.
When he had finished speaking, he knelt down with them all and prayed. There was much weeping among them all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, grieving especially because of what he had said, that they would not see him again. Then they brought him to the ship. (Acts 20.36-8)
This is technically the right answer. But none of us knew it at the time. Luckily, though, my roommate was already on it. He had looked in his concordance for “Timothy” and went to the first mention of him in the New Testament. Before the pastor had a chance to walk us through the other answer, my roommate shot his hand up and said he had found it. We turned our attention to him and he read:
Paul went on also to Derbe and to Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and had him circumcised (16:1-3)
Ladies and gentleman: the true cause of Timothy’s tears.
And if you think about it, all jokes aside, this is a beautiful picture. Last night at the home meeting I attend for my church, a few of us were wondering how we’re supposed to relate to Holy Week. What exactly are we supposed to “do” with it? Without the Resurrection, how are we to relate to the Cross?
We came up with a few answers: It should draw us to Lament. We should see there how one suffers well. We are to feel God’s closeness to us in our pain and doubt, for he experienced it as well.
But the one that stirred me the most was the reminder that the Cross is our symbol of what exactly it took to redeem this world. God committed to make all things new. That sounds awesome and all, but what did it take to do that? The Cross. There, we see on full display the depths to which our soul-stain runs. The pain, brutality, and evil that the body of Jesus endured is our own.
And so, it is only natural that the way that God’s people were originally joined to that one body as well was with a violent marking of flesh, accompanied by tears: Circumcision.
I’m happy that our New Covenant sacrament initiation is open to both genders now, but I wonder if there’s a visceral dimension that is lost when our joining to this Covenant is nice, neat, and easy. (The Orthodox know how to do a violent baptism, though.)
In other words, I wonder if being joined to the body of the crucified Christ couldn’t use some more tears, like Timothy. Have a blessed Holy Week.