The Fragrance of Worship
by Pastor Connie Larson DeVaughn

There are two “perfume” stories in the Gospels that recently caught my attention. The first (Luke 7:36-50) happened early in Jesus’ ministry. The Pharisees were still checking Jesus out, and one of them, Simon, asked Jesus over to dinner. While they were at the table, a prostitute entered, bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and then anointed his feet with an expensive alabaster jar of ointment she’d brought with her. Can you picture the scene? This woman caused a commotion, disrupted the order and flow of the meal with her extravagant gesture. The Pharisee did not think kindly of her, or of Jesus for allowing her to express herself in this way.

The second “perfume” story happened at the very end of Jesus’ life, when the shadow of the cross loomed menacingly over Jesus’ thoughts and words (Mt. 26:6-13). This time Jesus was at the home of another Simon, not a Pharisee, but a leper. Apparently, this was a friendlier setting, with his disciples present. Again a woman came to Jesus, and poured an alabaster jar of very costly ointment over his head. This time the disciples were the ones upset at the “waste.” A lot of money just went down the drain with that grand gesture. Surely the same point could have been made with a couple of drops of fragrance.

As I own up to the strains of practicality, efficiency, frugality and reservation in my nature, I can see myself uncomfortably siding with the Pharisees and disciples in these scenes. I know if I’d been present, I would have been thinking what they thought. Why the extravagance? Why make such a spectacle out of yourself? It’s a bit over the top, isn’t it? I can see myself pulling back, trying to school my face, but knowing that something was showing—a grimace, a glance of unease and solidarity with the other witnesses in the room—something of my real feelings of discomfort would have shown.

I wonder what these two women thought as they planned and executed this lavish act. They seemed not to worry what others thought of them. Or if they did, something much bigger was driving them. They had to have been motivated by an inward force which would not be squelched by society’s notions of polite etiquette. But did they wonder if Jesus himself would be pleased?

Jesus was a very humble man, given his true identity. He lived in poverty. He rubbed elbows with the ordinary and the uneducated. There were no frills, there was no presumption or pretense in his life. The fact that Jesus more than accepted—he enjoyed and affirmed—the excessiveness of these women is an eye-opener. He made it clear that there was nothing extravagant in these acts. It was right and proper for these women to treat him in such a worshipful way.

What this teaches us is that Jesus is worthy to be worshiped extravagantly. (And I’m not referring to the forms of worship, but to the heart that is involved in worship.) Worship is the giving away of one’s heart, and this is why our worship must never be measured or conservative. We are not to hold ourselves back when it comes to expressing our thanksgiving, wonder and praise of Jesus. The fact that such display of love may look socially inappropriate to others is secondary to what Jesus deserves and requires of us.

In worship of Jesus, a couple drops of fragrance will not do. This raises the question: “How much perfume have you ‘wasted’ on Jesus lately?” These women encourage us to wear our heart on our sleeve so that it is obvious to everyone around us that our heart really belongs to Jesus.