Focus – A Broken Alabaster Jar

by Major Anne Pickup – 

“Going home” over the last 25 years has meant going to the Pacific Northwest. Traveling north on Highway I-5, the scenery grows more lush and green with every passing mile. But I really know I’ve arrived when certain fragrances fill the air. First, it’s the “aroma of Tacoma,” followed by the salt water of Puget Sound, and finally, Starbuck’s coffee! Fragrances tell me where I am and flood my mind with memories.

Bethany was a “going home” place for Jesus. Two days before the Passover, which was two days before his crucifixion, an unnamed woman filled Bethany with a fragrance that is remembered to this day.

“…a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Jesus said, ‘Wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.'”

Mark 14:1-9

While Jesus and the disciples were eating dinner the unnamed woman entered, broke her beautiful jar, and anointed Jesus with its expensive contents. An extravagant act valued at one year’s salary! The disciples, especially Judas, were indignant and accused her of recklessness. Jesus, fragrant from the perfume, called it “beautiful.” This act of extravagance was beautiful because:

1) Her motive was love. She didn’t hide or guard her love. She displayed her love in complete abandonment. “Love is not premeditated– it is spontaneous; that is, it bursts forth in extraordinary ways,” said Oswald Chambers. Jesus saw the gift for what it was–a gift of love from a heart full of love. No hidden motives. No hidden agendas.

2) It was an action in response to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Jesus continuously spoke of his death, but the words fell on non-understanding ears. In this era, when someone died, the body was anointed before burial. God, knowing the crucifixion would press the time constraints of the Sabbath, loving his Son, and being a God of order, arranged through the leading of the Holy Spirit, to have Jesus anointed before his burial.

It’s unlikely the woman knew the prophetic nature of her action, but her obedience to the Spirit’s prompting played an important role in the redemption story.

3) She did what she could. Presented with the opportunity of the moment, this woman gave what she could. The jar and its contents likely was her dowry, and giving it away probably jeopardized her future security and happiness. Kent Hughes said, “The fragrance which is so honoring to him and refreshing to others does not come from giving half our heart, or half our wallet, or half our talents, or half our ambition.”

Oswald Chambers said, “The evidence of our love is the absolute spontaneity of our love, which flows naturally from his nature within us. The life of God exhibits itself in this spontaneous way because the fountains of his love are in the Holy Spirit.” The disciples rebuked the woman’s spontaneity, but Jesus called it “beautiful.”

The devotion, worship and love modeled by this woman challenges each of us to do what we can, and all we can, out of abandoned love for Jesus.

I have not much to give thee, Lord,
For that great love which made thee mine:
I have not much to give thee, Lord,
But all I have is thine.
–Richard Slater

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