An Easter of Alabaster
The woman with the alabaster jar has always fascinated me. I don’t know if it’s her anonymity, her daring risk, or just the mysteriously beautiful word “alabaster” that captured my interest the most, but regardless, the enigma of this story has kept me returning over the last few years to dig deeper and uncover the heart of its meaning. Both Mark 14:3-9 and Matthew 26:6-13 record the story. Picture the scene with me for a minute.
Here we have a dinner party where Jesus is reclining with the guys at the table. We know it’s hosted by Simon the leper, and Matthew tells us in his chapter 26 account that the disciples were also there. And chances are, other men from the town were there too. Then in walks this woman carrying an alabaster vial of nard.
[pullquote width="300" float="right"]Jews openly anointed individuals who were being set apart for some great role. Namely, when someone was being inducted to royalty or the priesthood.[/pullquote]
She doesn’t seem to be one of the invited dinner guests, but makes her appearance anyway, walking in with purpose and intentionality. She knows what she’s doing.
Ignoring the stares of the men in the room, she walks straight to Jesus – her sole focus. Then she breaks the seal of the bottle, and pours the oil on His head.
Fragrant perfume fills the room. It’s not a wimpy, wispy scent – this stuff is potent. Everyone can smell it, everyone can see what was done, and some take it upon themselves to heap scorn and shame upon her head.
Nard (short for spikenard) is an oil made from a plant grown in India. It was very expensive, this particular bottle costing a year’s wages. Think about that for a second – imagine saving up every single cent of an entire year’s worth of paychecks, spending it all on one tiny bottle of oil, then pouring out that costly oil on someone’s head. It does seem a bit foolish and wasteful, which the men in the room began to accuse her of.
But Jesus doesn’t miss a beat. Immediately, He steps in to protect the heart of this woman who braved ridicule to openly worship Him and give Him the recognition she knew He deserved.
See, the thing is, Jews openly anointed individuals who were being set apart for some great role. Namely, when someone was being inducted to royalty or the priesthood. In Jesus’ case, it was both. Yet for all His miracles and teachings, no one had officially recognized Him as the Messiah by giving Him the ceremonial anointing of oil.
So here we are, in the last days before His crucifixion, and a humble woman gives up what was probably her life’s savings to give Him the recognition He deserved – a public pronouncement that this Man is both King and High Priest.
And in response to her act of selfless devotion, the guys get all up in arms because they think she’s taken what could have been useful and done some good in the world, and thrown it away. It literally says they began to scold her.
Can you imagine being a grown woman, having just professed a costly, public act of love and devotion, and being reprimanded as a child by a group of scorning men? I think I would feel like my vulnerable heart was being torn to pieces and stomped on.
Jesus makes His opinion of the whole thing pretty clear: Back off. What she’s done is not wasteful or foolish. It’s beautiful. She’s done what she was able to do. And you know what else? This means so much to Me that what she’s done here tonight will be told about wherever My gospel is spread for centuries to come.
So what does this mean for our modern age?
This article on The Anointing at Bethany has some good things to say:
Mark 14:8 “She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial.
Literally, “what she had, she did.”
- She took advantage of the opportunity to serve the Savior.
- She did according to her capacity and ability.
- Again, she did what she did, out of insight and devotion.
God does not give us all the same ability and capacity, nor does He give us all the same degree of wealth and health. But we all have at least one spiritual gift. We all have talents, and resources, and opportunities to express our love, gratitude, and devotion to the Lord Jesus.
God never holds us responsible for what we do not have. The issue and need is (1) to spend time getting to know the Savior so our hearts can be filled with Him and His love, and then (2) out of our fellowship with Him, to take what we have and make it available to manifest the sweet aroma of Christ.
Ever since I was a child, I’ve had a penchant for creative things. I love words, colors, design, music and any other artistic element you can imagine. But as I grew older, I began to give up my artistic pursuits. I started to feel guilty for my desires to create art, and instead thought I should devote all of my energy to overseas missions or something actually good and useful like that. I didn’t realize that both art and serving those in need are important and valid pursuits.
Each one of us is a unique work of art, because our Maker is an Artist. He has given each of us different talents. What I love about how Jesus approaches this issue here is that He validates the necessity of serving the poor, but without demeaning the value of an “extravagant” gift given to Him. Art is one of those gifts.
So, if you're an artist at heart, let me encourage you: Jesus treasures that art you make out of a heart of gratitude, adoration, and devotion to Him. Maybe you write stories. Or maybe you play an instrument. Maybe you paint, draw, make origami figures, sing, mold clay, scrapbook, take photos, grow plants, nurture souls, or decorate homes.
What the woman with the alabaster jar did for Jesus was an act of selfless, costly worship. It was a public expression of humility, love, adoration, and devotion to Jesus. It was intended to magnify who He really is – the King of kings and Lord of lords.
The art you make because you desire to use the gifts and resources He’s given you is important. He loves it.
[pullquote width="300" float="left"]What the woman with the alabaster jar did for Jesus was an act of selfless, costly worship.[/pullquote]
And this is not just limited to art. It also applies to things like taking time out to just sit at Jesus’ feet in solitude and prayer for an hour. Everyone around you might say that’s foolish because there is a lot to be done, but there is beauty in making time to study the Bible instead of pouring over your newsfeed.
Don’t be afraid to defy those guilt-trip lies of the flesh, the enemy, and the world. Spend that hour in prayer. Take the time to really read the Bible, and even more, to impress it on your heart. Make the effort to pour out your heart in song, photo, poem or whatever form you wish to express your adoration of your Savior.
This Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, let’s make an intentional effort to pour ourselves out in gratitude for all that He done for us.
Even though He has already risen from death, we can still give Him gifts as we remember and give thanks for His sacrifice and resurrection. Romans 12:1 urges us to present ourselves to God as living sacrifices. Let’s give Him the sacrificial gift of our hearts in adoration for the love He’s already poured out on us.