An alabaster jar was once used to hold expensive perfumes. The jars were made with a long neck and designed to be broken to use the contents and were ideal for perfume because they kept the contents from spoiling.
There are a couple instances in the New Testament where a woman (or women) anointed Jesus with this perfume from an alabaster jar. (Mt 26:7, Mk 14:3, Lk 7:37) The gift was very, very expensive and once opened was used up. There’s been a lot written about the alabaster jar so I’m not going to analyze and argue the points, but I did want to share some of my personal experience and thoughts.
Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had previously had leprosy. While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume and poured it over his head.
The disciples were indignant when they saw this. “What a waste!” they said. “It could have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.”
But Jesus, aware of this, replied, “Why criticize this woman for doing such a good thing to me? You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me. She has poured this perfume on me to prepare my body for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.” — Matthew 26:6-13
I’ve been a Christian for nearly 37 years. I had a great start, then drifted back and forth in my faith until 5 years ago when I went on a mission trip to Tecate, Mexico. Even before the trip God was doing a work in me. He used that time serving to accelerate the changes in my life and grow my faith by helping me see the path I was blazing and where it was leading me. It wasn’t to a good place.
On my recent trip to El Zapatillo the question came up about the alabaster jar and I asked myself what was in mine, or rather what was my alabaster jar? What is that most precious thing that I give God, but also, what am I holding back?
God doesn’t need anything from us, but he does want us. He’s a jealous god and he isn’t satisfied with a divided heart. The sad thing about my life story even though I’ve been a Christ follower for 37 years is that it’s mostly about what I’ve held back. For much of my life I divided my heart between God and what I wanted for me. I was trying to pour out my alabaster jar on both me and Jesus at the same time. It’s kind of silly to think about it in those terms isn’t it? Much of the perfume would be wasted trying to pour it on both people.
Besides, how can any one of us compare to Jesus? It was he that created the world, came into it in the most humbling of circumstances, lived a perfect life, sacrificed himself for us, and then rose from the dead and offered us a new beginning. He did all of this by his strength. What have any of us done to compare to that? To say that any one of us should share in an anointing with him in that way makes no sense. Our lives can’t possibly compare on any measure to him.
When these women came to Jesus, they came with remorse, full of repentance and love for a person who gave of himself to save them. He gave them forgiveness and a restored relationship with God. They gave him a most precious gift in the jar of perfume, but while Jesus accepted this, I believe it wasn’t the fragrance of the perfume that delighted him. It was the fragrance of repentance and love that they showed from their heart that was symbolically portrayed in their actions. It was a pure act of worship, a sacrifice of monumental proportions of the lives that these women led to obtain such a gift.
The irony is that there is nothing we have that God hasn’t first given to us. The perfume that these women brought was provided to them by God. He gave them life and means to either produce or obtain these expensive items. In the end, they chose to use them to honor God. Can there ever be a more beautiful act of worship, but to lay down our lives at the feet of God for his service?
It’s not about the alabaster jar, the perfume, or the woman who gave it. It’s about God, recognizing him for who he is, and honoring him for what he has done.
What’s in your alabaster jar and how will you choose to use it?
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”
Then Jesus answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.”
“Go ahead, Teacher,” Simon replied.
Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver to one and 50 pieces to the other. But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”
Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”
“That’s right,” Jesus said. Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.
“I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The men at the table said among themselves, “Who is this man, that he goes around forgiving sins?”
And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” — Luke 7:36-50