Extreme sports are exiting because they involve danger. One of the more dangerous sports is wingsuit base jumping. Imagine jumping off a cliff wearing a “wingsuit” and a parachute. You glide on the wingsuit as long as possible, and then pull the parachute cord to land. Many of us enjoy watching videos of events like this, but few of us would actually be willing to jump off the cliff. It’s too dangerous.
We live in a risk-averse culture. We go to great lengths to minimize risk. Safety is a major focus of our lives. We have insurance or protection plans for everything, including our phones and other devices. But life is not risk free, and following Jesus can be very risky.
I wonder what came to mind when you saw the title of this article. Probably some people are excited about the idea of “extreme worship”, but for many others it probably brings up some deep seated fears about being “too extreme.” What would Jesus say about “extreme worship”?
A dinner for Jesus
The events described in Jn. 12:1-8 took place during the final week before Christ’s death on the cross. He was invited to a dinner by his friends Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. While everyone else was eating, Mary took a vial of expensive nard oil perfume and poured it on Jesus’s feet. Then she proceeded to wipe his feet with her hair.
If you find this shocking, you are not alone. This wasn’t normal behavior in first century Israel either. It was customary to anoint the heads of honored guests and provide water for them to wash their own feet. Mary went way beyond what was expected or even acceptable. No doubt many of those at the dinner were shocked by her behavior.
Try to imagine yourself in the room. Listen to the voices of people conversing during dinner. Smell the earthy fragrance of nard oil. Watch Mary as she wets Jesus’s feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. What thoughts and feelings do you have? How would you respond?
What does it cost?
At this point Judas, who had arranged to betray Jesus, objected that this was a huge waste of money. Mary used a pound of nard oil perfume, which is a huge quantity. I’m no expert on perfume, but it seems to usually be sold in small bottles, usually one ounce or less. So Mary used a lot of perfume. A denarius was a coin that was the usual wage for one day’s labor (Mat. 20:2). Since the Jews did not work on the Sabbath or religious holidays, three hundred denarii would have been an entire year’s income. Minimum wage laws vary from one place to another, but let’s say that is equivalent to about $20,000 today. Mary spent $20,000 in a few minutes to worship and adore Jesus.
How would you respond to that? If you’ve been a Christian for a while you have probably heard this story before. We see this as a touching example of Mary’s love for Jesus. But if we had actually been there, most of us would have probably responded the same way as Judas did. He had ulterior motives (Jn. 12:6), but the other apostles joined him in criticizing Mary’s actions (Mat. 26:8-9). They were indignant and scolded Mary for such a waste of money.
Most of us are more like the disciples then we are like Mary. Unlike Mary, we would probably have calculated the cost, and ask ourselves whether it would have been enough to use half or a quarter of the perfume and saved the rest to sell later. We would probably have used a towel instead of our hair to wipe his feet.
The response of Jesus
What would it have been like to be Mary? She must have sensed the strong disapproval of the other guest at the dinner. She almost certainly heard the rebuke of Judas and the other disciples. We do not find any indication in the story that the criticism of others slowed her down at all. She continued to pour out her heart in love and adoration of Jesus.
Jesus responded with a forceful defense of Mary and her actions. He described the anointing of his feet (and head too, cf. Mat. 26:7) as a preparation for his burial (cf. Mk. 14:8). I don’t know if Mary had an idea about what was going to happen the next day, but if so she might have had more insight than some of the disciples.
How to worship like Mary
What can we learn from Mary about worship?
1. Sit at the feet of Jesus
Earlier Mary had sat at the feet of Jesus listening to his teaching while her sister Martha was busy serving (Lk. 10:38-42). Once again Mary was at the feet of Jesus while Martha was serving (Jn. 12:2). Are you more like Mary or more like Martha? Do you long to sit at the feet of Jesus?
2. Don’t worry about what others think
Most of us spend a lot more time than we would care to admit wondering what other people think about us. We don’t want others to think that we are being extreme or are out of control. We might feel a desire to raise our hands in worship, but worry about what others will think. Many people are afraid to pray out loud because they are worried what others will think of their prayers. Does your pride hold you back from loving Jesus?
3. Love Jesus without limits
How much devotion to God is “reasonable”? Sometimes we do an internal calculation to determine how much is enough. We use that to set a limit on how much we are willing to do or give in serving God. Mary didn’t do that. She loved Jesus extravagantly. What are you willing to give to Jesus?
4. Courageously follow Jesus
Following Jesus is risky. It takes courage and faith to look beyond what we can see. We often have to pay a price to follow Jesus (Lk. 14:25-33), and we usually do not know ahead of time what that price will be. What are you willing to risk for Jesus?
If you are interested you can listen to a recent sermon I gave on this topic.