Vulnerable Worship in a World of Cynicism

John 12 

12 Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 3  Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. 8 For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

Mary of Bethany had an emotional history with Jesus by the time of this story. She had believed in Jesus to the point of sending for Him in John 11 when her brother lay dying, confident Jesus could heal him. And she was deeply wounded when Jesus didn’t come, sitting in her home in silence while her sister ran to Jesus with her sorrow. But Jesus moved in an amazing way, bringing her brother from death to life. What a roller coaster of emotions she must have experienced in her walk with Jesus the few weeks before this scene in John 12. 

Prior to Lazarus’ healing, Mary had once before sat at the feet of Jesus, eagerly listening to His teaching. On that occasion, she was rebuked by her sister, but Jesus affirmed her. This time in John 12, she opened herself to even greater rebuke as she poured out expensive perfume on His feet, likely a family heirloom whose cost was estimated to be a year’s wages. She then wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair, which was her glory in that culture. She laid herself out with no protection in her worship of Jesus. She was completely vulnerable. Judas seized on it and tried to shame her. Yet once again, Jesus rebuked her accuser and affirmed her act of worship. 

It is remarkable that a woman in that culture would pour out so much of herself in worship of Jesus– financially in the form of such costly ointment and culturally in the form of soiling her valued hair. The vulnerability of her worship is threatening, yet I personally find it deeply encouraging as well. We have good reason to fear opening ourselves, so naked emotionally, in worship of Jesus. For we too risk the same type of rebuke she faced first from her own sister and then Jesus’ disciple. Women especially can be open to criticism in such devotion—mocked for being too emotional or irrational. I often feel constrained by how society will judge my worship and devotion if it appears too costly or too vulnerable. It’s different than Pink Fluffy Bunny emotionalism, yet as a woman I find the deep things of Christ and the Word sometimes result in deep emotion and passion in me, and that can raise the disdain of cynics. Mary’s sacrifice in worship is notable, but what actually empowers her worship is even more important, for it is the thing that enables me to find example in John 12 for myself. She was empowered personally by the object of her vulnerable worship, Jesus Himself. For shortly after Mary washed His feet with her hair, He hung naked on the cross for her and us. Her vulnerability towards Him in worship pales in comparison to His vulnerability in sacrifice for her. He laid Himself bare in every way, and it is through His shame we now have access to the Father, bold and confident access according to the author of Hebrews. 

The only way I have found to stay engaged in honest, vulnerable worship of Jesus in our day of skepticism among outright unbelievers and cynicism among others who claim a Christian heritage is daily meditation on Christ’s sacrifice as He laid down Himself so vulnerably in love for us.

Isaiah 53 3  He was despised and rejected by men;  a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces;  he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 

4  Surely he has borne our griefs  and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5  But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

My pastor preached a beautiful sermon on this passage. You can listen to it here.

8 Responses to Vulnerable Worship in a World of Cynicism

  1. Luma Simms March 18, 2012 at 8:42 pm #

    Wendy, I resonate with what you say here: 'yet as a woman I find the deep things of Christ and the Word sometimes result in deep emotion and passion in me, and that can raise the disdain of cynics.” I'm reminded of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:10, “We are fools for Christ's sake.” I have thought how odd and inconsistent it is that even in (some) Christian circles we're allowed to show passion for all kinds of things (e.g. organic eating, cloth diapers, baking bread, homemaking, parenting, domestic creativity, having many babies and on and on), but on the other hand, we can get raised eyebrows by showing that same kind of devotion and passion for Jesus Christ. As if somehow we are being unfaithful to our calling as wives and mothers by being so passionate about Jesus. (I need to write a post on that!)

    Many times when I thought I may be getting a little “too passionate” for Jesus, my husband has encouraged me to not be afraid to be a fool for Christ.

    Thank you for the reminder that the Lord does not look down upon us for our passion and vulnerability toward him.

  2. Vanessa S March 18, 2012 at 11:19 pm #

    Wow, wonderful words, Wendy . . . and Luma too.

  3. Luma Simms March 19, 2012 at 4:19 am #

    A quick note so that I'm not misunderstood: What I said above comes from my own personal experience and Christian walk in the last thirty-four years. I am currently in a church and under elders who care deeply about the spiritual growth of women, so this is NOT an indictment of them whatsoever. I am so grateful for the encouragement of my husband and my elders in my endeavors toward spiritual and theological growth, and the use of my gifts in this area.

  4. Angela De Souza March 19, 2012 at 12:16 pm #

    Wow what a beautiful piece on worship. I was instantly reminded of David who was also rebuked for his worship by his wife. What many people frown upon, God commends and receives. May we all learn to worship God with reckless abandon! xxx

  5. Anonymous March 19, 2012 at 1:37 pm #

    :'} Then I looked, & I heard around the throne & the living creatures & the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads & thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power & wealth & wisdom & might & honor & glory & blessing!” & I heard every creature in heaven & on earth & under the earth & in the sea, & all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne & to the Lamb be blessing & honor & glory & might forever & ever!” Rev 5:11-13

  6. Melissa March 19, 2012 at 9:37 pm #

    Thanks for your wonderful reminders! I so often find myself doubting my motives in worship. I then end up distracted. I really like what you said, Luma, about how women are “allowed” to be more passionate in domestic areas, but not in areas that really matter like worship.

  7. Anonymous March 22, 2012 at 2:34 am #

    God ministered deep needed truths through this word. May He be glorified for the work that He is doing in and through you to minister truth and encouragement to believers. May we stand boldly, yet humbly, knowing that we can be vulnerable in our worship and repentance. He will keep us. He will keep our life and give us a deep resonating joy, despite the pain of suffering. He will vindicate us. May you be encouraged that the Lord used you to give life through His word.

  8. Flyaway March 25, 2012 at 3:15 pm #

    We are studying Hebrews 9 right now in Precepts and we are reminded that only through the blood are we able to be forgiven and have fellowship with God. We don't mention Jesus's blood very often in our churches. I was reminded of how important the blood is by a Christian woman visiting from Liberia. She took me back to the basics!