I was recently reminded that, in our Christian gatherings of community worship, where folks from all backgrounds and situations are coming together, not everyone is in the same place when we gather, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. It would be premature to make judgments on where these folks are, on the spectrum of their Christian journey, simply by observing only their expressions- or lack thereof- in the corporate setting. I think Christian artists (musicians) are more prone to this, for the very nature of what we do is “expressive.” Be that as it may, there are probably many types of worshipers (and non-worshipers) in attendance, but in this discussion I want to focus on just two of them, which I will call the Alabaster Extravagant worshiper, and the Two Small Coins worshiper.
**Alabaster Extravagance- Matt.26:613 and Mk.14:3-9, with Lk.7:36-50 (cf Jn:12:1-7) This type of worshiper is referenced to in all four of the Gospel accounts. And no wonder, for Jesus Himself said, “wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Matt.26:13 and Mk.14:9). For our reflections I would like to hone in on Luke’s recorded account.
There is A LOT going on that just can’t be addressed in one sitting. In short, Jesus exposes the heart of his dinner host in comparison with the worshiper, by telling a story:
“Two people 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 forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
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—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Luke 7:41-48
So let’s unpack this a little bit. First, what characterizes the Extravagant worshiper as expressed by the “sinful woman?”:
+she was a broken individual (a “sinful” woman). She was fully aware of her situation; she new that she needed help, and she knew where and from Whom to get it.
+”wasteful” extravagance- Her expression was “over the top.” It was more than what social morays called for. In fact, in the eyes of some, the effort probably would have been better spent elsewhere.
+EVERYBODY knew about it (the fragrance filled the room). There was no hiding the expression, nor did she try to hide it. It didn’t matter who else was in the room; it only mattered that JESUS was there, and that she expend all she had on Him.
+it was the response of a gratefully forgiven heart. She knew that she would be received. She knew just enough about Jesus to know that He would not reject her. In the presence of such great love, great love needed to be expressed.
Now let’s look at Jesus’ response (Matt.26:613 and Mk.14:3-9)
+He was indignant towards her accusers. When the disciples (and Judas in particular) berated her for such a “wasteful” expression, Jesus turned on them! “Why are you bothering this woman; Leave her alone!”
+”…a BEAUTIFUL thing…”- “She has done a beautiful thing to Me.” Jesus attributed great worth to what the woman had offered. He recognized the place from which it came: a grateful and thankful heart, and that was beautiful in the eyes of the Saviour.
+Jesus made her an EXAMPLE of WORSHIP- “Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Jesus raises her up, and what she has done, as a true and genuine act of worship, so much so that it is recorded in Holy Writ for all to see and emulate.
I knew a fellow who “couldn’t carry a tune in TWO buckets”, let alone one. He was off key, he was loud, he was “over the top” in his expression, and he always sat on the front row right in front of the worship team. When some of the team members asked if there was a way to get him to be quieter or to move, I said, “he can sit there and sing as loud and off key as he can, so long as he continues to express such joyful, exuberant worship from that grateful heart of his!”
Now I get it that some folks might just be showing off or trying to get attention, but they are rare. “Over-the-top” expressions may not be “attention getting” or “showing off.” It may simply be the expression of one who KNOWS and DEEPLY APPRECIATES the forgiveness they have received, and extravagant expressions are the only appropriate response.
**Two Small Coins- Mk.12:41 This is a lesson of contrasts:
+Contrasts: the small and inconspicuous over against the large and VISIBLE
+Contrasts: out of poverty over against out of abundance
So, what did Jesus have to say about these contrasts? The widow gave MORE because she gave SACRIFICIALY and GENUINELY. The lack of what we might deem as proper “expressive worship” may not be indifference, but simply a heart that is offering up what they have out of the poverty of their soul, and yet they offer up all of it to God in worship.
So, what is the TAKE AWAY for us? Don’t “douse a blaze” and don’t “snuff out a wick.”
First off, don’t be “a wet blanket” over someone else’s joyful, albeit exuberant, expression of praise. There are simply too many references throughout the Bible that holds this kind expression in high honor. Even if you suspect that it may not be all that genuine, maybe adapt the mindset of the Apostle Paul:
“It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill… But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice…” (Philippians 1:15,18)
Leave the judgment to God, and rejoice!
Second, don’t put out a smoldering wick, by your words or you attitudes. Keep in mind that we don’t always know what folks have been through or are going through. I love the description of Messiah that Matthew refers to from the prophet Isaiah:
“He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.” (Matthew 12:19-20, cf Isaiah 42:1-4)
Some folks may be quite literally bringing in a sacrifice of praise, giving thanks to God when all the messages and circumstances around them are saying there is nothing to be thankful about. The flame they once carried is now a smoldering ember by comparison. Yet they choose to offer their small flame, their “last two coins” in worship, because, in spite of all other things contrary, they recognize that God is still worthy of praise, even of their small offering of worship.
Don’t “douse a blaze” and don’t “snuff out a wick”, whether it be in others, but perhaps more importantly, within yourself. God is worthy of, and delights in, your “alabaster extravagance” and your “two coin offering” of worship!