A Congregation Provides a Lesson in Extravagant Grace
June 13, 2016
I was having trouble following the conversation of the church vestry. They were speaking rapid Nyanja, and while I could pick out a few phrases, I was unable to keep up with the discussion. I could tell that they were speaking about a man in prison who would soon be released. And as the vestry continued the heated discussion, I filled in the blanks.
Of course there would be nervous debate about a prisoner soon to be released into the community. I guessed that they were figuring out whether they could let him back into the congregation. Would they be safe? I remembered similar conversations about ex-offenders in my previous congregations. What to do when a person gets released from prison? How does a church behave?
As I watched them speaking, I was surprised by their smiles and the lightness with which the conversation continued. I had stopped listening as I imagined the content of their discussion. Finally my colleague turned to me. “Were you following?” she asked. I admitted that I had not understood most of the discussion, but she was happy to explain.
“Very soon one of our members will be released from prison. He is getting an early release, and we are very happy. So we are planning on throwing him a party. We are figuring out how to raise funds for this party.” She returned to the conversation and I nodded as if that was exactly what I had expected. They weren’t debating whether this man could return to their community. They were discussing the details of the party they would throw for him.
I spent that morning with the congregation, and by early afternoon it was time to begin the long drive back to Lusaka. As we were ready to depart, the minister asked us to wait outside for just a few minutes. We complied, and I wondered what they needed to discuss without us present. It took longer than a few minutes, and I began to feel impatient. I don’t like driving in the dark and I really wanted to get home before nightfall.
Finally the minister came out of the church and said farewell. As we were getting into the car, she shoved a wad of money into my hand. “Please, use it to buy food and soft drinks on your drive home,” she said. I began to protest, but she stopped me. “Please. You must. This is for you.” I accepted the gift, realizing that they had been taking a special offering to collect this money.
We did not need soft drinks, and we had traveled with a bag of food and water in the car. That money could have gone to feed someone else—someone who was hungry, someone who did not have a couple of chocolate chip cookies hidden in the glove compartment. But we had to accept this extravagant generosity—from a church full of faithful Zambians who throw parties for prisoners and collect money to feed Americans.
The Gospels tell of a woman who poured expensive perfume onto Jesus. She poured the whole bottle on his skin, and then wiped it with her hair. And when the disciples protested, “What a waste! This could have been sold and the money given to the poor!” Jesus said, “Why do you trouble her? She has done this beautiful thing to show her love. What she has done will be told again and again, in memory of her.”
This little church, in this little town, in south central Zambia, is pouring out perfume. They are throwing parties for prisoners; they are collecting money to buy soft drinks. They are singing and dancing and wiping in ointment with their hair. They are showing love—joyous, crazy, grateful, faithful love. And I can see Jesus smiling and laughing with them, saying, “Let their story be told over and over again, in memory of them.”
Former mission co-worker Joel De Jong
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray with scripture
Luke 7:36–8:3 (NIV)
When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said.
“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 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.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.