Alabaster is a soft, easily-worked mineral substance, a variety of gypsum, that during the time of Jesus was used to make small vessels for holding perfume and other decorations and statues. The Greeks originated the name from Alabastron, a city in Egypt where such vials and boxes were made from the stone found there. There are two references to alabaster in the Bible and both are found only in the New Testament, both involving women and Jesus.
Onestory is found in Matthew and Mark the otherstory is in Luke.
The Anointing at Bethany
“Now when Jesus was in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to Him with an alabaster jar of costly perfumed oil, and poured it on His head while He was reclining at table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant and said, “Why this waste? It could have been sold for much, and the money given to the poor.” Since Jesus knew this, He said to them, “Why do you make trouble for the woman? She has done a good thing for me. The poor you will always have with you; but you will not always have me. In pouring this perfumed oil upon my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Amen, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be spoken of, in memory of her.”
The Pardon of the Sinful Woman
A Pharisee invited him to dine with him, and he entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. Now there was a sinful woman in the city who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee. Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. “Two people were in debt to a certain creditor; one owed five hundred days’ wages and the other owed fifty. Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both. Which of them will love him more?” Simon said in reply, “The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.”
He said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment. So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The others at table said to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” But he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
In Matthews Gospel it is the disciples who become indignant about the wastefulness of the woman, and in Luke’s Gospel it is Simon the Pharisee who is indignant because after all, if Jesus were a prophet, he would surely not allow himself to associate with this sinful woman.
Can you see the righteous indignation in both of the underlined sentences in the two passages above? What does this have to do with each of us? Might we have made similar statements if we had been present in these stories? Perhaps we actually make these same types of statements today about others? Do we need to trade in our own righteous indignation for an alabaster flask? Even though both stories demonstrate righteous indignation I want to focus the balance of this 4thdayletter on the woman in the second story.
To be clear the alabaster flask mentioned in Luke’s Gospel was far more valuable than the typical clay jars used at this time in history. So we know the contents inside the expensive jars had to be even that much more valuable. And just where did she pour this perfume? She poured it right on Jesus’ feet, what was considered the lowliest part of the human body. She did this because she knew she was a sinner and she wanted to honor Jesus. She seemed drawn to Jesus for forgiveness.
On the other hand Simon the Pharisee seemed to see himself above sin and he clearly did not want to be among sinners. He wanted to be seen with this holy man, this prophet because it looked good to be with him. Sometimes too, we want to been seen as “church going” people. We want others to see “our good side”.
Too often we may forget that Jesus came to save the lost. Too often today we forget we are the lost. Our pride and our egos won’t allow us to admit publicly that we make mistakes, that we sin, and that we have our “issues” that we struggle with. I am confident that everyone reading this at this moment has your own “thorn” to deal with. If Jesus came to your town today and was gathered with the “important people” in your community would you be willing to interrupt that meeting in a public display like the woman did, publicly admitting your sinfulness and seeking Christ’s forgiveness? Or would you perhaps feel more inclined to be there among the “important people” who act as if they are more worthy than the rest and clearly not sinners?
While I am not proud of any of my past sins, I am ready to admit that I am a sinner and that my salvation totally depends on Jesus Christ. I think we must all, not only be willing to admit this, but we need to be cautious not to put on a false pretense when around others to make them see us as “holier than thou” people. Many people are turned away by “church people” because they see them as too holy and not as sinners while those who are broken see themselves as not belonging. If we can all admit we are sinners in need of Jesus and the salvation He won for us on the cross then we might even begin to attract more people to church and to Christ.
The humility demonstrated by these women is in short supply today while inflated egos and human pride are in over abundance. The Bible is full of stories that make it clear that Jesus came in search of lost sheep; He came to heal the broken, and He came to call the sinner to repentance. If this is so, and we know it is, then why do we pretend so hard to not be broken?
Let’s all take our Alabaster jar into our prayer time. Let’s either symbolically in prayer today or during our next Reconciliation anoint Christ’s feet as we admit our sins and brokenness. Let’s let our tears wash His feet as we pour out our sins and seek His forgiveness. Let’s seek forgiveness for at times, seeing ourselves as better than others. Let’s realize that while our sins may be different from one person to the next, the fact remains we are all sinners in need of forgiveness. Let’s make others who have made mistakes feel welcome. Let’s show them the forgiveness Jesus has shown us.
Heavenly Father, the woman in Matthew’s Gospel anointed your sons head with perfume, and the woman in Luke’s Gospel anointed his feet. Father sometimes my pride gets in the way of admitting my own brokenness. Sometimes Father it is easier for me to see others faults while ignoring my own. Grant Father that this day, I can pour out my sins to your son Jesus, admit my faults and seek his forgiveness and in turn see others as I see myself; a sinner on a journey in need of salvation. Amen!