Have you ever been going about your day and a worship song just pops into your head? A part of a chorus that just keeps playing over and over, like a soundtrack to your activity? Sure, Baby Shark gets stuck in there too sometimes, but I much prefer a song that acts as a prayer for me to worship and meditate on as I ride the bus, stand in the supermarket queue, sit in traffic, or do the chores.
A little while ago I was thinking about this and a random prayer popped into my mind: Jesus, did you ever get songs stuck in your head? He was human, like us, and most of us experience earworms at some point, so I can’t see why he wouldn’t have…. but how could we ever know?
I felt my question was an invitation from God to go on a searching journey, to wade in a little deeper, think a little wider. OK God. I won’t dismiss this. I’ll seek out your answers. But how could we possibly ever know?
Well, let’s start with what we do know… If you or I were to quote the lyrics from a song in a conversation with someone, then chances are that just before we did, we were probably thinking of the song, even imagining the song. There is even research to show what the 4 main triggers for having earworms in the first place: hearing the song recently (or repeatedly), having a memory association, being in certain emotional states or having a low-cognitive load (i.e. doing something that doesn’t require much thought like walking, or doing the dishes). So if someone starts quoting the lyrics of a song, and they are in one or more of the 4 situations that triggers earworms, then it seems pretty reasonable that they could be imagining the song….so what about Jesus?
Just so happens that the words of Jesus are often quoted in the gospels (you know, all those red bits). And several times he quotes from Psalms… so you can see where I’m going with this can’t you… I jumped into my bible and started a systematic study of all the times Jesus is quoted by the gospel writers as quoting from Psalms. I made a table of where he was, who he was speaking to, which Psalm he was quoting, and any relevant information about the Psalm itself. I took note of what he’d just been doing, and what he was currently doing, as well as what kind of emotional state he might have been in. And I was astonished by what I found, and wanted to share just 2 points.
The first thing I noticed was that in all of the instances of Jesus quoting Psalms (and there are about 8 unique occasions, repeated in the different gospels so 20 all up), Jesus is either IN Jerusalem or is facing towards and addressing Jerusalem. These Psalms would have been sung in the temple in Jerusalem, and so it makes sense that the songs would be triggered by the memory association of this place, as well as the repeated exposure to them that he would have had there. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus spends so much of his life outside Jerusalem, and yet there is no mention on him quoting Psalms in the countryside?
But the coolest thing I found was an example of the recency effect, or having just heard the song. In all four gospels, as Jesus enters Jerusalem, the crowds are shouting, waiving palm branches and singing: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”. These verses are from Psalm 118:25,26, it is part of the Hallel Psalms (Psalms 113 – 118) which were sung / chanted at all Jewish festivals in the temple, as well as in the homes of families as they celebrated the Passover meal. [In fact, Psalm 118 was most likely the last song of worship that Jesus actually sang with his disciples after the Last Supper as “when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Mathew 26:30, Mark 14:26). And Psalm 118 is exactly the middle of our bible, with the shortest chapter of the bible (Psalm 117) before it, and the longest chapter of the bible after it (Psalm 119). So it seems like a pretty important Psalm – and I encourage you to go read it, picturing Jesus and his disciplines finishing their Passover meal together, with Jesus knowing he is about to face the cross… its powerful stuff, and could probably write a whole other post on that one!! But back to the earworms.]
So, Jesus has entered Jerusalem and heard the people chanting the words from this song, and then during that week sometime between Palm Sunday and Good Friday, he quotes from a different part of the song:
“The stone the builder’s rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes” Psalm 118: 22,23 – in Matthew 21:42, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17.
A little later that week after Jesus has blasted the Pharisee’s, he tells them they won’t see him again until you say “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” Psalm 118:26 – in Matthew 23:39 (Also in Luke 13:35). It’s that same song.
This is a worship song the Jewish people sing at ritual times of the year – almost like our Christmas carols to us – and Jesus is quoting the lyrics (and while he is at it, teaching the Pharisees that the words are about him.) In the same way that Jingle Bells gets stuck in your head at Christmas because you are hearing it so often, it may have been true of this song. Of course, this is not to trivialise Jesus quoting the Psalms – he was profoundly using these lyrics to reveal himself to those in Jerusalem. But this revelation to me teaches me more of the humanity of Jesus.
So why do I feel compelled to share this? Two reasons. Firstly, to encourage you to keep on asking questions. I’m so full of questions, especially when it comes to my faith. But the good news is that God never tires of answering them, even the seemingly insignificant or left field ones. He’s made us to be curious. So if you have a random question about Jesus – why not ask him today? It could be the start of a journey together to uncover the answer. Secondly, what worship earworms have you had lately? Is there a chorus from a song running through your heart? My challenge for you this week is to become more aware of the worship within you, and to speak out the lyrics, share those songs in conversations with others, you just never know who else you can bless by what you share.
Rebecca lives in Sydney with her husband, Graham, and 2 kids. She loves to worship, drink coffee, connect with people, laugh out loud and learn new things. She has a PhD in music cognition, where she looked at what is going on in the brain when people imagine music.