Summary: What we learn about genuine worship from Mary’s act of extravagant worship. Sources include, but not limited to, four Sermon Central messages cited at the end this entry.
Scripture: Mark 14:1-9
We began last week by looking at some of the stories or events that lead up to Easter - the time of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Last week we looked at the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
Today, we’re going to look at one of the most beautiful stories of love that is contained in the scripture. It’s a story of one person’s act of worship.
First, a little background. About ten years ago, National Geographic had an article called, “Perfume, The Essence of Illusion.” Perfume comes from various sources - It can come from the fragrant fields of lavadin along the country-sides in France. It can come from the dew-kissed petals of the Damask roses from Bulgaria’s Valley of Roses. Some come from the jasmine fields of India. The perfume that was used in the story we read this morning, came from the Himalaya mountains in India.
It takes 2.5 million flowers to yield just one pound of jasmine concentrate. It takes 800 pounds of crushed roses to bring just one pound of concentrate. One rose concentrate can cost almost $4,000 per pound. Jasmine of India can cost as much as $12,000 per pound.
After being away on business a husband thought it would be nice to bring his wife back a little gift. “How about some perfume?” he asked the cosmetics clerk.
She showed him a bottle costing $50.
“That’s a bit much,” he said, so she returned with a smaller bottle for $30.
“That’s still quite a bit,” the husband complained.
Getting annoyed now, the clerk brought out the tiniest bottle of perfume - only $15.
“What I mean,” said the husband, “is I’d like to see something really cheap.” The clerk, now being quite annoyed moved to a different part of the counter, selected what she thought appropriate and held it before him.
It was a mirror.
One person has said, “Perfume is a promise in a bottle. Perfume speaks more to our vulnerabilities than our strengths.
Now with that little bit of background in mind, let’s look at the story we read today about a woman - Most scholars agree that the woman was Mary of Bethany; an alabaster flask or box - alabaster is a white, yellow, or brown calcium deposit found mainly in limestone caverns and it can be quarried and carved into vessels, and the perfume contained inside the alabaster flask or box.
As the story unfolds, Jesus, is eating at the home of Simon the leper - we can surmise, since Simon is in his home, that he has been cured of his leprosy - so perhaps the dinner is in honor of Jesus for curing Simon’s leprosy, or perhaps it is a celebration of Lazarus’s continued life on earth which has just taken place. It might have been just a meal - not a celebration of any particular kind - just eating because it was meal time. But whatever it was, we know from the other accounts of this story, that most likely the woman is Mary of Bethany. She would be Lazarus and Martha’s sister, not the Mary of Magdala who we saw at the Ecumenical service Wednesday evening. It was wonderful that the distinction was made between the Marys. And here we see Mary, this sister to Lazarus and Martha, coming to Jesus, in this act of worship. And it seems that each time we see Mary - on the three occasions in the Bible that we see her, she is at Jesus’ feet.
I believe that is the very reason that this story offers us so much about how we do worship. Mary has spent time at Jesus’ feet - she has taken in what Jesus told Martha was “the better part” and so not only was it not taken from her, but it was left as an example for us of how to worship.
What do we learn from this woman of worship?
First of all, I think this story teaches us that:
1. All genuine worship is good. (vs 6). All genuine worship is good. In verse five, we’re told that Mary was scolded for her offering. It even says she was criticized harshly. And then in verse six, we see the rebuff. Jesus says, “Knock it off you guys.” “Leave her alone! Why are you criticizing her for a good thing.”
You see, this was not how the disciples would have worshiped Jesus. They would have been more frugal, more formal in their worship. Mary worshiped with reckless abandon. And Jesus said - “Don’t criticize.” All genuine worship is good.
What is genuine worship. The answer is there in the scripture - in this story. To be genuine, pure worship:
Our flesh (or flask) must be broken. In order for our worship to be genuine, acceptable to God, the thing that holds the beautiful aroma of our praise to God, must be broken. Why? - Because that’s the only way it can get out. The flask that Mary brought before Jesus that day had wonderful perfume in it - but the only way to get to that essence, was for her to break the jar.