Why our worship should be a little more nuts.
Love sometimes gets a little crazy.
In college, a friend of mine wrote the love of his life a long and deeply romantic letter on an entire roll of toilet paper (you realize this is no small feat if you’ve tried to write anything on toilet paper). Other people in love have rented out huge billboards or hired advertising blimps. That’s just crazy. There’s something about love that pushes the boundaries.
In Luke 7:36-50, Jesus is having a nice lunch with a nice group of very nice people. It is a pleasant moment. No one has called him names. The conversation has been civil and respectful. All the proper boundaries have been preserved. Simon, who is hosting the luncheon, has not joined other Pharisees in dismissively attacking Jesus. Simon isn’t like that. He has opened his home, his table, his hospitality, and has been decidedly respectful to the less educated Nazarene.
The pleasant lunch abruptly changes when the town’s best known whore aggressively shoves her way into the room. Before anyone can stop her, she throws herself at Jesus’ feet and starts holding and intensely kissing them over and over.
By then the whole room is filled with an overwhelmingly strong perfume. Since Simon’s triclinium used the traditional low table, everyone eating was lying on their left side, and using their right hands to eat. There are no chairs. So, the scene you need to imagine is Jesus on his side with his legs extended as this unsavory woman starts frantically kissing his feet.
The only possible reaction in the room was embarrassed silence. No one kept eating. Not even chewing. Everyone looked away. Respectable people did not stare at the almost pornographically embarrassing display of feet-kissing. In polite Jewish society, men and women rarely touched or even spoke together in public. Certainly, strangers did not touch, except for prostitutes. Which, of course, is exactly the point. Here was this well-known woman holding and kissing repeatedly on the feet of a traveling teacher. Such behavior would cross all the lines of public decency.
Just as disturbing, the man on whom this uninvited effrontery was being committed did not pull his feet away or voice a protest. In fact, he seemed to be more or less enjoying it. It was all too much for the very respectable host.
“If he was really all that holy, he’d pull away.”
But, what if there was a holiness that called not for greater separation but for greater connection?
“If he was really a prophet he would know who that woman is.”
But, what if Jesus not only knows who she is, but also knows that you don’t think he knows? Hmm? Fit that little bit of information into your tidy little box of messianic assumptions.
And now it’s story time. Sadly, there are no puppets. Two people are in debt. And, look, there’s the cruel moneylender. Okay, change that to, there’s the kind-hearted moneylender. One man owes ten times more than other. And, poof, both debts are erased. Now, which of the two will love the moneylender more? Yeah, good job. You aced the quiz.
Now, this is where things start to get out of focus. Lurking in the story is a rebuke. She washed Jesus’ feet, kissed him and anointed him, while Simon had not done any of those things. Simon got it wrong and the unnamed lady got it right. But, take a moment to think about what this must mean.
Simon’s failure was just that he had not gone overboard. Simon did not reject Jesus. He didn’t call Jesus mean names. He even opened his home and offered Jesus a place at his table. And, on top of that, he shared some pretty tasty food. And, all the while, he addressed Jesus respectfully.
So, what did he do wrong? Okay, so he did not go running to the front door, fall down on the floor, and wash Jesus’ feet. He didn’t go running up and give Jesus a big hug and a kiss, as though he were a long lost friend. But, honestly, it’s not like Simon got down and washed everybody else’s feet or greeted all his other guests with big kisses. He had not been rude and just snubbed Jesus, letting him stand there as the only guy in the room with dirty feet. Simon, after all, was a very respectful and courteous fellow.
But ‘respectful’ only gets you so far. Genuine worship, like genuine love, sometimes has to get a little crazy. Extravagant, wild, exuberant and uninhibited abandonment of self-consciousness and respectability are the occasional, but essential, evidences of honest-to-God adoration.
No age group or worship style has a corner on people getting a little crazy from time to time. Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, young evangelicals and the Scots-Irish Primitive Baptists of my youth all can have those moments when people break out of the expected and, driven by some great rush of joy, start acting a little crazy. Houses are sold and the money from it given away. Crazy. A couple moving into retirement announces that they’re going to Russia instead. Crazy. Somebody in a praise service tears off some of their clothes and goes out dancing in the streets — no, wait. That may not count. That’s King David. We can’t get that crazy, can we?
Most worship ministers (and quite a few lead pastors) are, by gift and curse, control freaks. Planning, planning and then more planning. When the unexpected happens we keep smiling on the outside, but on the inside we’re screaming, “Nooooo!” Good worship is worship like we (prayerfully) planned it. And most people in the congregation come each week operating within the distinct impression that giving Jesus respectful worship in singing, in giving, in listening and in breaking bread is all that any Messiah could ever want.
It’s good. Honestly. The worship we expect this Sunday is not bad worship. But, if you watch Jesus, do you ever notice him glancing around as if he’s looking for something a little crazy? Jesus loves us and smiles at our worship. But, it’s still those crazy woman-at-his-feet moments that make him laugh.
Why our worship should be a little more nuts.