I remember the first time Bea walked into my classroom. Hair the colour of sun-ripened corn bounced in light curls about her shoulders. I am not sure that I ever noticed the colour of her eyes, but I remember a frank gaze. Her smile hid secrets and she moved with confident assurance and grace. Her legs and hips were poured in to jeans that accentuated every contour. Her white sleeveless top, with a sequinned logo emblazoned across her chest, was just short enough to reveal an enticing flash of flesh She carried a bright pink folder.
The class was not my favourite. Over the course of the year, unsavoury pupils from other classes had moved in bringing with them their chewing gum, uncooperative grunts and the aroma of recently smoked cigarettes. They never had a pen, but still managed to leave offensive graffiti on the desks. I felt sorry for the dwindling remnant of nice pupils who waited patiently for their parents to write notes insisting that they were moved to a better class.
Introducing Bea into my collection of misfits was like a putting a lighted match to a firework. There was a chemical reaction between her obvious curves and the, up-until-that-moment, dormant hormones of the boys. In a matter of moments they were strutting and preening. They salivated and they drooled. They batted their eyelids in mock bashfulness and they boasted. It might have been Jamie that actually flexed the muscles of his arm, inviting her admiration. In their minds they built pedestals to put her on and they worshipped her - not always from afar. They fought with each other to sit next to her and their faces lit up when she smiled at them.
I think back to my own school chemistry lessons. I know litmus paper did something but can't quite put my finger on what it did. It was a long time ago. Putting one particular element in a solution nestling at the bottom of a test tube caused a reaction that confirmed the presence of another element. Things would change colour, or let off a swirling cloud of gas, or make a distinctly unpleasant aroma.
There are some stories in the Bible that we are very familiar with. We have heard numerous sermons based upon them, that our minds automatically head down a well beaten path to a well remembered principle. When we read about Mary breaking the alabaster jar of perfume and pouring it over Jesus feet, we think perhaps about the need to be extravagant in our worship. We think about the fragrance filling the room and clinging to everyone. As they left the room, the took the fragrance with them, just as we, when we have been soaked in the presence of God, take the fragrance of life with us into our daily lives. Like jar that needs to be broken to allow the fragrance to flow, something within us needs to be broken by the Spirit of God.
Look at it as a chemical reaction. When Mary breaks the jar and pours out the perfume what does the response reveal about the other people in the room? How do they react? Her heart of worship and devotion is obvious, but what of the other disciples? I don't read any words of approval, or encouragement, or affirmation. Her action is criticised as a needless waste of money. Jesus alone understands what she has done and why and commends her.
That one act of extravagant worship revealed something about Mary, but just as importantly, it revealed something about everyone else too.
The story tells us exactly what the disciples said, but let your imagination supply you with their thoughts.
"That was a bit over the top."
"That's taking things to the extreme."
"She'll regret she did that one day."
"That was embarrassing."
"Who does she think she is?"
"Typical of women - over-emotional."
"You won't see me doing anything like that."
I think that at this point Jesus might have been a little sad. The "science experiment" had revealed that there had not been an answering response. They didn't catch on.
Confronted with wonderful examples of extravagant worship and devotion, I have to think about my reaction. What I do in response reveals so much about my heart attitude and about the place I give to Jesus. I have to ask whether there is an echo in my spirit that says that I wish I had done that.
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