One thing I noticed when re-reading the gospels recently is something we don’t often associate with Jesus is the word extravagance.
Yet feeding 5’000 people with just 5 loaves and 2 fish yet having 12 baskets left over can only be described as extravagant!
Filling the nets with fish until the nets started to give way with the miraculous catch of fish was extravagant, as was filling the huge stone water jars with the finest wines again was not only extravagant in quantity, but it was also extravagant in quality too -“you saved the best til last”.
Yet there was extravagance in Jesus teaching too.
The welcome home of the prodigal son embraced and restored with the slaughter of the fatted calf that would have probably fed the whole village was excessive. Or the Good Samaritan did more than just let the wounded man ring his mum on his mobile, but rather went that extra mile with a smile, we read that not only did he stop, but he looked after the man, took him to safety and paid for his care.
We see extravagance in the worship of the sinful woman who poured a pint -A PINT- of pure Nard over Jesus (this was probably about a years wages, think £22’000 pounds poured out over one individual). It is an excessive, extravagant act of worship and adoration of Jesus.
Jesus’ life showed the extravagance of the Father in giving his one and only Son, not just to live among us, but to die at our hands. God is a God of extravagant generosity, as is seen in the wonder and the beauty of the awesomeness of creation where not even one single snowflake is the same as the one before.
King David understood something of this extravagance in his worship and response to God, his wife thought it was outrageous -and it was- but surely worship can, and should, be outrageous at times. King David danced before the Lord in his under-garments with the line “I will become even more undignified than this!”. Yet just prior to that as he returned the Ark of the Covenant back home, he killed a bull every few paces, such extravagance in sacrifice would have had a real dent in the countries economy, yet David wanted to give God a pleasing sacrifice, asking in the Psalms “Can I give you a Sacrifice that has cost me nothing?” -Clearly David thought the answer to that question was no.
Yet extravagance is not a word we think of when we think of discipleship or life together corporately as Church, in fact we often appear to value frugal-ness above generosity (yet God is not a frugal God!)…
We often seem to value fasting above feasting, and yet there are actually more mentions of feasts than fasts in the Bible.
Recently I came across a wonderful (Christian) Cafe in Wareham (called Not Just Sundae’s) where people buy coffee and wonderful cake on account for people to go in and get blessed, they also have a group working with young people with esteem issues and they let the kids choose whatever they’d like from the menu to eat and drink for free (how often in our Church do the kids get cheap and nasty squash with soft and stale biscuits). The ethos of this Cafe was to offer people “outrageous hospitality” which is something when I heard it resonated with my spirit, this is something so often missing in our Churches and our lives together and yet when it is seen it is so beautifully and wonderfully Christ-like.
Today I was talking with a lovely saint -who has blessed me so much in the past- telling me how his wife and he are going to foster displaced children and teenagers, another clergy family I know have a Syrian Pastor and his family living with them and not only do they share meals with them, the dad (a posh older vicar) was telling me about how he enjoyed water fights with the kids in the summer, not just welcomed into the home, but clearly loved as part of the family. Extreme love and generosity.
The Church, Barnies, I was on placement at in Derby paid for an asylum seekers family to join him from the Congo to Derby.
In Salisbury the Soup Run was called the “Banquet Run” because they wanted to give out nice home-made soup, because if you take Matthew 25 literally you are giving Jesus his evening meal and therefore you’d want to give him the best you can offer.
When I worked in Poole/Bournemouth I discovered that one of my friends, Jon, the Nightclub Chaplain bought ‘his’ Big Issue seller a Easter Egg, but went to Thornton’s and got a big egg and had his name written on it in icing (and didn’t tell anyone, we found out from the Big Issue Seller). Yet doesn’t that sound like Jesus?
The foodbank the other day were wrapping up Christmas presents for people to put in their food bags, yet each present was being wrapped so carefully and with so much love it moved me, and again I thought, this looks like Jesus.
Recently I had an email from someone who mentioned about caring for his wife with dementia and I thought actually there are so many unsung heroes here whose wonderful love is truly extravagant and Christ like which often is not recognized enough in our Churches, yet it is outrageous love for another human-being that reflects Christ in its patient on-going sacrificial love.
Yet sadly we see so often in our own lives, in our lives as Church together, in our discipleship that often we have such a poverty spirit, tight fisted generosity which is many things but cheerful it often isn’t.
I think when see this lifestyle challenge, we are scared of the cost and the challenge, the pain and the sacrifice. Everyone wants this in theory, but the challenge to actually do it in reality is a bigger call .
Shane Claiborne said once “Everyone wants revolution, but no one wants to do the dishes!”