The Heart of Worship

John 12:1-8

Mary had washed Jesus’ feet; all they required was a dab of perfume. It had been an opportune moment. She and Martha were so grateful for what Jesus had done for Lazarus and the dinner was a big ‘thank you’. Mary told the servants to take a break as it would be an honour for her to cleanse Jesus’ feet, and it would give her the perfect opportunity to sit where the men normally did and ask a few questions.
Lazarus, Nathanael and James were engaged in a hearty conversation with James occasionally thumping the table to make his point, when their senses were arrested by the overpowering fragrance of pure nard. A silence fell over the room as they all glanced to where their noses led them. It was the feet of Jesus; they were glistening with the stuff, the empty flask still rolling side to side on the floor. They immediately looked to Mary, her face was shattered, her eyes filled with tears. What had Jesus said? Martha scurried around looking for something to scoop the precious liquid, but Mary was quicker. Perfumed hair was the custom for ladies, and she caught the running drops with her unravelled hair, spreading the excess all over Jesus’ shins and carves. He seemed quite content, even amused.
Good perfume was usually reserved for special guests, but to pour a whole pint of nard – a year’s wages worth – on anyone’s feet was unheard of. What was Mary thinking? Well it’s not hard to work out. She thought he was worth it. She was seeing more than an honoured guest. If other guests got a dab, Jesus should get the whole flask! But her actions weren’t premeditated; she had suddenly seen something she had not seen before. Later Jesus said Mary had anointed him for his burial (7). Had he explained to Mary that he would die? Did Mary suddenly see he was the Lamb of God and in his death was life for all; including her precious brother? I speculate, but something snapped, because Mary was completely undone! Her response was nothing less than unbridled worship.
But Judas wasn’t seeing it. He couldn’t believe Mary could be so wasteful. A year’s wages on feet! And he had a better idea. The perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor. But John, our onsite eyewitness and author, provides some inside information here; Judas kept the groups money bag and sometimes helped himself to the cash; that was the real reason he wanted the money.
John says “The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. BUT one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot … objected”. The fragrance filling the house is interrupted with ‘but’. It’s like Judas and the fragrance were on opposite sides. In scripture fragrance is associated with worship and God’s presence. The altar of incense in the Jewish temple emitted sweet aromas before the curtain leading into the most holy place. It is good that the presence of God fill the house of God. Here the hearts of Mary and Judas are revealed. Mary sacrificed worldly things to have God’s presence, and Judas wanted to sacrifice God’s presence to have worldly things. Mary was a real worshipper while Judas was a pretend one. There is a lot to learn from these two attitudes because while we may want to praise Mary and boo Judas, the truth is that there is a bit of both in each of us.
Real worship is simple; like with Mary it’s seeing God and responding. Pretend worship is complicated; like with Judas it’s about hidden agendas. If you have been part of a worship team you will know what I mean. Musicians and singers have to work hard at making sure they are not in it for themselves. Worship is always for God and never for us. It’s time to get back to simplicity and cut out the distractions. Fancy song intros may sound good but they have a habit of swinging the worshipper’s focus from God to the music, overpowering voices and solo bits usually do the same thing, they draw attention to the ‘performing artist’. Don’t you love Mary’s attitude. She gave all she had gained. It’s all for Jesus and none for her. Jesus’ feet are drenched and her flask is empty. Jesus is anointed and she is left looking a fool. But who cares, it’s not for us it’s for him. I would like to appeal to our song writers to return to the simple. We are not in competition with the world; we are offering something totally different. Hear me please; may our albums model worship and not concert. As the next generation of worship leaders arise let’s encourage the true worshippers and silence the pretenders. Worship is for God, not us.

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