Last weekend, many Christians in Memphis cried. A video that has gone viral shows a group of teenagers brutally beating innocent and helpless victims in a Memphis grocery store parking lot (a grocery store about a mile from my parents’ house). In the heart of a city rife with violence and injustice both historically and currently, such a video brings us to our knees. We grieve the hatred, violence, anger, brokenness, and desperation that this video showcases. And we grieve the hatred, violence, anger, brokenness, and desperation that many people's response to this video showcases. When we feel the gravity of our neighbors’ troubles in Memphis and elsewhere, we might even ask, “Is there any hope for this city?” And sometimes all we can do is cry.
But in God’s economy, our tears are not wasted.
After celebrating God’s deliverance and appealing for fresh deliverance, the psalmist in Psalm 126 testifies, “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” Such a jarring juxtaposition of tears and shouts of joy makes us wonder: How are the seeds of God’s harvest watered with tears?
The picture of “sowing in tears” evokes the hardships of an agricultural society. In a dry land each seed the farmer placed in the ground was costly, especially since this seed represented the grain that could have met his family’s immediate needs for bread. But the only way to reap a harvest is to sow seeds, so he placed that precious seed into the seemingly barren ground in hope that the rains would come and cause it to bear fruit.
As Christians we sometimes feel like farmers in dry fields—tirelessly investing our most precious resources even when it all seems impossible. Acts of violence and anger like those in Memphis can cause us to wonder whether the gospel is making any headway in our cities, especially in our neediest cities and especially when these acts remind us of longstanding systemic problems. In the face of such felt barrenness, God’s people often “sow in tears” with actual tears.
The Scriptures testify to the productivity of our tears in God’s economy. Like Esther, sometimes God’s people sow in tears of intercession, weeping on behalf of others and making appeals for their sake. Like the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, sometimes God’s people sow in tears of compassion, weeping over the brokenness of this world—grieving with those who have lost and identifying with those who suffer. Like Ezra, sometimes God’s people sow in tears of sorrow over wickedness, weeping over sin and its tragic consequences.
Yet the productivity of our tears is eclipsed by the productivity of God’s tears. Although Psalm 126 proclaims good news for all God’s people, the unique experience of Jesus Christ fully illustrates the realities of God’s economy. More than courageous Esther, Jesus sowed in tears of intercession by making appeals for our sake (Heb. 5:7-8). More than the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, Jesus sowed in tears of bitter grief and sweet compassion (John 11:35). More than Ezra, Jesus sowed in tears of sorrow over sin as he looked upon Jerusalem and grieved her destruction (Luke 19:41-42). Jesus’ ministry of tears reaps sheaves of eternal life by bringing many sons to glory and sheaves of abundant life by pouring out his Spirit upon his church. Through Christ’s ministry of tears, we can anticipate that everlasting harvest festival in the new heavens and new earth where peace will reign and where God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
Through Christ’s ministry of tears, we can anticipate that everlasting harvest festival in the new heavens and new earth where peace will reign and where God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
In the meantime, we sow in tears. We open our hearts to the pain and brokenness of this world. And we bear witness to the One who has himself sown in tears. When we look to Christ, we have firm confidence in the productivity of our tears sown in God’s fields. In other words, when we lament—when we grieve as God grieves—we take redemptive action. Amid all the other actions we take, we must take the action of weeping. One vital sign of hope for the city of Memphis is that last weekend many Christians cried.