MARK 14: 3-5
And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her.
Does this event seem strange or random to you? It did to those in the presence of Jesus in this situation. They pictured it as a waste of the expensive contents of the alabaster container. But Jesus was honored by the anointing.
Background: In those days, when a woman became of age to be married, she would receive an alabaster box from her family that would be filled with precious (costly) ointment (perfume) and would be part of her dowry. The wealth of the family would determine the size of the box and the quality of the ointment inside. When a man came to ask for her hand in marriage, the woman would respond by breaking the alabaster flask or box and anointing his feet. This showed him honor.
When I first studied about this alabaster box topic, my first reaction was pertaining to the loss of value in such a quick and simple action. First of all, alabaster is expensive. Secondly, costly perfume was put into this expensive box. It was a woman’s keepsake from her family that she was given once finally reaching the age when she was available for marriage. How such a precious item could be worth so much up until the point of her engagement – where she would destroy the box and anoint the precious contents on her future husband – was simply astounding to me. Most girls of this day probably had nothing worth more than that alabaster box. I compared it to something that I value, the most costly thing that I own. I thought of my car. If a man came to my doorstep and asked me to marry him, my initial reaction would not be to light a match under my gas tank and rain the molten ashes down on my future husband’s head. This type of practice simply does not happen today. Then why did the Lord choose to put this in the Bible? How are we to make a pertinent connection to this biblical account? After all, it was clear to Christ that this symbolic practice was important:
“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (verses 6-9)
I took a step back and read the verses again. Immediately, I made a connection. This woman in verse 3 was not, in fact, anointing the feet of her future husband. She was anointing the head of her future Savior! She had taken her valuable box with costly contents and emptied it on the head of Christ, showing Him utmost honor with her sacrifice and submission.
Side Note: I found it interesting that anointing with oil was not just a pre-marital custom between those promised to each other, but also a very common practice for those who were specifically set apart for important reasons. Examples of this include kings and priests during Bible times, whose heads were anointed showing positions of leadership and religious responsibility.
Again, I examined this in light of my own life. It was no longer an issue of how I may honor my fellow man or worry about my costly possessions. It became a realization of what I make important to me, and how much of that I hold on to without giving it over to the Lord. All of a sudden, many things came into my mind. Time would be at the top of my list, among other things such as friends, relationships, family, money, jobs, cars, gas prices… the list went on. And before I knew it, I made another connection. Everything in my life that is important to me comes from God as a result of His love and mercy. He has given me all things good. And all these things in my life that have meaning and worth to me are all bunched up into my own “alabaster box” that I keep and revere. If what I treasure comes from God, I must do as the woman in verse 3 did. I must show Him the love, honor, respect, and faith He deserves from me. I can put my alabaster box on a shelf and selfishly worship it, turning it into an idol. Or, I can break it all at my Savior’s feet and surrender it to His will. And why must I do this?
Because I live in light of eternity. It’s why I do anything.
Just as Jesus considered the anointing a preparation for his burial, He considers our sacrifices for His return. Because at the core of our submission and sacrifice to Christ is the underlying theme of the honor we are compelled to show our Lord: salvation. I am saved by grace through Christ alone. And while my life is made up of nothing that can repay the Lord for His saving work on the cross, He enables me to show Him the glory He deserves by recklessly abandoning my life to His cause.
I desire to prepare my life to impact others for the sake of the gospel. To do this, I take my modern-day alabaster box and shatter it, allowing everything I value the most to be transformed into a symbol of love for my King and the gift He so freely extends to all mankind.