Our English word ‘worship’ came from the German wert, meaning worthy or valued. Originally the noun worship conveyed the sense of worthiness. Even today, in a court of law a judge is shown valued respect by being addressed as ‘your worship’ – your worthship, your worthiness. It only became a religious term centuries later.
The word was used by the Magi seeking the new-born ‘King of the Jews’ –‘we … have come to worship him’ (Matthew 2:2). They did so – without music or words! – by ‘opening their treasures, they offered him gifts’, including (Matthew 2:10) ‘gold, and … spices’ as the Queen of Sheba had honoured Solomon (1 Kings 10:10) who was ‘king over Israel’ (1 Kings 1:34).
In Mark 14:1-11, just before Passover Jesus dropped in at the village of Bethany to dine ‘in the home of Simon the leper’, presumably someone he had previously healed. ‘A[n unnamed] woman came [in] with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly’ – which contrasts with the Hebrew place-name: ‘Bethany’, ‘house of the poor’ – ‘and she broke the flask and poured it over his head.’
This devout soul displayed prophetic sensitivity. She couldn’t have known that he would soon be crucified as ‘King of the Jews’. Traditionally, from the earliest days of the monarchy, the king in Israel had been anointed for office by a prophet. Samuel had anointed Saul and, later, young David (1 Samuel 10:1; 16:13), then Nathan had anointed Solomon as David’s successor (I Kings 1:34).
In John’s version of this anointing (I Kings 12:1-8), the woman is identified as Mary, sister of Martha. He also tells us that Jesus realised that ‘she did it in preparation for my burial’ (I Kings 12:7, New Living Translation). Such was her prophetic focus that she sensed in her spirit that this moment might be her only window of opportunity. Other women would bring spices to his tomb at dawn on Easter morning to anoint his body only to find both his tomb and his shroud empty (Mark 16:1-6). So here and now, ‘as he was reclining at table’, she broke open the flask and emptied its precious contents on his head and (John adds) his feet. Then, in a breach of social decorum and with carefree extravagance she loosened her hair and wiped his feet with her tresses (John 12:3).
True worship exposes hypocrisy
‘There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was this ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii” – an entire year’s wages of a day labourer – “and given to the poor.” And they scolded her’ (Mark 14:4-5). Matthew tells us that the grumblers were actually ‘the disciples’ (Matthew 26:8), and John specifies ‘Judas Iscariot’ was the main spokesman (Matthew 12:5-6), adding: ‘He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief’ who ‘used to help himself to what was put into’ the team’s ‘money bag’. Mark went on immediately to report that ‘the chief priests … had promised to give him money … to betray’ Jesus (Mark 14:10-11). ‘Love your neighbour’ is a great commandment, but the greatest is first ‘to love the Lord your God with [your] all’ .
* How extravagant am I in our public worship of him who is utterly worthy of our adoration? He gave his all to God for us – his pilfering neighbours!