Life in Los Angeles can be a little bit surreal at times. Recently, a friend ran into Christopher Reid (better known as Kid, from 80s hip-hop duo Kid ‘N Play) and Dave Navarro (of Jane’s Addiction and Rock Star: Supernova fame) in the same night. Last year, my wife and I saw Shawn and Marlon Wayans and Simon Cowell during a quick trip to the mall. It is not uncommon to be served by a waiter who moved here to pursue an acting career or a barista who is working on a screenplay. Even the bar down the street from us is a frequent location for episodes of Blind Date.
According to Richard Ryan, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, the desire to become famous is not limited to Western culture. This fame motive can be found in cultures worldwide. Living in our media-saturated culture does, however, promote and exaggerate, this desire for fame.
Though it might not be as obvious as queuing up with thousands of others for the next American Idol audition, this longing to be personally recognized and admired by others can affect us as followers of Christ. Of course, even the person who nods off before the pastor can say, “And now for my second point,” realizes that it is probably better to be humble than proud. But we can still struggle with this desire to make a name for ourselves, to see our name up in lights (or on the marquee outside).
Certainly, there is nothing wrong with wanting to make an impact. In fact, as scripture says in 1 Timothy 3:1 (The Message), “If anyone wants to provide leadership in the Church, good!” It is crucial, though, to understand the nature of doing great things for God. We might wish to be Bill Gates or Bono, using our fame and fortune to have massive influence on global issues, inspiring scores of people along the way to get involved. However, most of us do not, and will never, hold the title of history’s wealthiest person or world’s biggest rock star. The good news is that there is hope for regular people, responding to the love of Jesus, to make an impact in this world. However, becoming a history maker might look a little bit different from what we had imagined.
Scripture tells a story of Jesus being anointed by a woman in the town of Bethany, in preparation for the cross. In a controversial move, she poured out a jar of perfume, valued at over one year’s wages, onto Jesus’ head as a literal fragrant offering. The disciples, being a pragmatic bunch, were offended at this seeming waste of such a valuable resource.
Jesus had a very different perspective. Where the disciples saw a terrible waste, Jesus saw a beautiful thing. Jesus saw this woman’s heart–that she had given to Him that which was most valuable to her. Her love for Jesus went beyond the realm of lovely songs and flowery phrases and into the practical reality of how she lived her life. Her actions were not bold simply for the sake of making a statement. Rather, her extravagance highlighted Jesus–her love put Him at the center of attention.
And through her faithfulness, she had connected with the bigger picture of God’s plan, even if she didn’t fully realize it. She became a part of God’s story, as she prepared Jesus for His upcoming burial–which, in turn, would lead to His glorious resurrection. Jesus grants to her a place of high honor. As He said in Matthew 6:13 “Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (TNIV).
This woman definitely left her mark on history, having her story told worldwide and throughout time. Notice, though, that there was no monuments built in her honor, no ministries named after her, no plaques inscribed with her name on the front-row pew. In fact, we do not even find out her name. She became a history maker, anonymously.
Through her actions, this woman from Bethany made Jesus, the object of her affection, the center of attention. In the same way, we are also called to make God known through our lives. For some of you, that might mean giving big ups to Jesus when you win your first VMA. But for the rest of us (all of us, really), it will mean proclaiming the glory of God through our words and the way we live our lives. That, somehow, our love for Jesus would be so deep that others would see how amazing He is when they look at us–that He would become famous, even if we remain anonymous.