Breaking the Alabaster Jar

3 While [Jesus] was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

4 Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? 5 It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

6 “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Mark 14:3-9

Sometimes I like to think about what it would be like to be one of the disciples who followed Jesus around during His ministry. As we read Scripture, it seems as though their lives were never dull. I mean, one day you’re in this crowded house when all of a sudden pieces of the ceiling start falling in and lo and behold, a man is lowered on a mat to be healed by Jesus. The next day, you’re out at sea when you see what appears to be a ghost walking toward you – on water – and it turns out to be Jesus. It just seems like a giant reality show with crazy events that are actually not staged.

I wonder if the disciples were hoping, in this story, for a calm and non-threatening dinner for a change, where Jesus doesn’t get fussy and rebuke someone or that someone doesn’t rebuke them. I mean, sure, they were eating with someone who had been a leper so there was possible judgment by others there, but Pharisees weren’t present so they should be in the clear, right? Wrong. And the DISCIPLES end up being the ones rebuked instead of this intruder!

But I love how Jesus is always sticking up for the “little guy” so to speak. The disciples begin their grumbling, probably thinking they would get affirmed by Jesus, but instead are shut down.

Jesus says, “she did what she could” and that what she has done was “beautiful.” You see, according to scholars, it was customary to pour a few drops of perfume on someone’s head when they enter your house. The best perfumes were contained in alabaster jars and nard was among the most costly of ointments. This woman did not pour a few drops. She BROKE the jar, meaning she had every intentions of using all of the perfume in anointing Jesus. Because we do not know hardly anything about this woman, for all we know, this jar of nard could have been all she had. Yet she spared none of it.

Two chapters previously, in Mark chapter 12, we see a similar circumstance. Jesus and his disciples are hanging out near the place where offerings are collected. As Jesus is watching, he sees the rich people throwing in large amounts, but in the midst of the crowd, Jesus notices a poor widow who tosses in two small copper coins, worth a fraction of a penny. At this sight, he tells his disciples: “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on” (vv. 43-44).

Jesus places less value on the quantity and more so on the quality or significance of the gift. He says or quotes things such as:
“did what she could,” or
“all she had,” or
“first fruits of our labor,” or
“the fattened calf.”

I don’t know about you, but for me, this concept is nothing but encouraging. I am the definition of perfectionist. If I do not excel at a task or activity, it is likely that I will not participate. I do not do things halfway and if I fail, I have trouble letting it go. For example, I played volleyball in college and I can still remember making an error in the fifth and final set in a match against Atlanta Christian, costing us the game. I can see it happen and I still feel the adrenaline from it. This game was three years ago. These things stay with me. I’m sure many of of you can relate to this feeling.

But here’s the beauty in who Jesus is and what He is asking of us. He isn’t asking us to be the best in our field. He’s not giving us a quota on the number of disciples we are to make for Him. Going into full-time ministry, we all know that we will not exactly have the same bank account as our doctor or lawyer friends. But that’s not the point.

The point is: God is asking for US. He’s asking for our ALL. That’s it. As long as I am giving him all of me and all that I have and all that I can, He will say “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” I don’t want to simply pour a few drops on Jesus’ head. I want to have the strength and the courage to break open the bottle without caution and let the perfume flow.

And I challenge you to join me in this.
To abandon worries of not being good enough.
To abandon feelings of self-consciousness.

And instead, to break open the alabaster jar and to throw in your two copper coins.

Amen.

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