Breaking My Alabaster Jar
I have to let go of what I thought my life would look like to receive the grace of how my life actually is. I have to let Him fill me in the place I find myself, not the place I thought I should be.
The scriptures tease us with clues about the woman with the alabaster jar, but she is far from fully known. Was she the same woman, or several women coming before the Lord? Either way, I love her – her courage, her faith, and her willingness to pour out her heart, her treasure, and her tears on Jesus.
She appears in all four gospels. In Luke 7 she is described as a sinful woman who stands behind Jesus weeping and bathing His feet with her tears. She wipes and kisses his feet and anoints them with ointment from the alabaster jar. She seeks Jesus out at this dinner and in response, Jesus asks the Pharisee, “Do you see this woman?” Jesus sees her. He forgives her sins. He offers her great love, salvation, and peace.
In John 12, she is named as Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus, who anoints Jesus’s feet with genuine aromatic nard and dries them with her hair. The house is filled with the fragrance of her love. Judas grumbles at the woman, but Jesus says to leave her alone.
In Matthew 26 and Mark 14, the woman is again in Bethany but this time at the house of Simon the leper. Here, she breaks her alabaster jar and pours the oil over Jesus’ head while he is reclining at table. The disciples protest, but Jesus is quick to defend her sacrifice and declares she has done a good thing for him.
She offered him extravagance, her treasure – her alabaster jar. Alabaster was a hard stone from Alabastron in Egypt that was crafted into a box, jar, or flask and then filled with expensive, fragrant, perfumed ointment or oil. When filled, the alabaster jar was worth the equivalent of thousands of dollars. A jar was often presented to a young woman by her parents as a gift to give her betrothed as a sign of commitment. It was also often used to anoint bodies for burial. It was designed to be broken open only once, with great intention.
Where did her jar come from? The sinful woman was not married or betrothed. That jar was her security. Was the jar passed down in her family? Was it even hers to sacrifice?
Perhaps the jar was an idol for her – I can relate to that. She may have kept it on a prominent shelf in her home as a source of envy and pride. Or maybe she kept it hidden away to protect it from breakage or theft. How much of her identity and her heart were attached to the bounty of the alabaster jar? Her satisfaction in possessing it and the confidence that she could rely on its currency no matter what?
I imagine this lonely woman with her alabaster jar, stroking the side and hoping that someday it would bring her heart’s desire. She may have believed it was the only thing that made her a woman worth loving.
What movement in her spirit led her to grab her precious jar that day and go to Jesus? Why then? Why that day? What did she know of him? She learns where Jesus will be and her faith breaks through her attachment and reliance on her earthly treasure and she pours it all on her Lord and her God. How must her heart have burned within her for her to sacrifice her dreams and security! I can feel her passion and longing as she clutches the jar to her chest and makes her way quickly through the narrow streets, veil flowing behind her, to where she hopes she will find Jesus.
I long to witness this extravagance meant for lovers and to be filled with the heady scent of nard. At His feet, she is the beloved. Her tears are the language of love. I feel them in my own body, the deep release of sorrow, regret, and longing you feared could never be shared or known. The disciples are indignant at the waste of oil, but they do not yet know the language of this intimacy. They cannot yet receive the outrageous abundance that Jesus will pour onto all of us when his alabaster body is broken for all of humanity, and the fragrance of Christ infuses the world with grace.
Jesus says, “She has done what she could.” The woman breaks not just her alabaster jar but her alabaster heart. She gave him everything and Christ proclaimed that what she has done will be spoken of whenever this gospel is proclaimed.
I too have done what I could. I don’t have an alabaster jar, but I have bathed Christ with my suffering. Over and over I have poured out my sorrow at his feet beneath the monstrance in our small adoration chapel, the marble floor wet with my tears. Dozens of times I have fallen there in grief, lament, confusion, or pain, my heart ripped open and going the only place I know to go. I break open my heart and give Him my treasure. I have had to let go of what I thought my life would look like to receive the grace of how my life actually is. I have to let Him fill me in the place I find myself, not the place I thought I should be.
It is an especially painful season for this, again. Another surrender I never thought I could do is done. My heart stretching and breaking and receiving grace I didn't know I could hold while I was broken open. There is no harvest yet from the sorrow. I pick up the broken shards of alabaster that lay at my feet, the scent of sacrifice lingering in the air. I am grateful for the faith to hold on and believe and cling to His feet, drenching them with my tears.
When we love Jesus, we can’t circle around the edges. If I am going to break my alabaster jar open at the feet of Christ or pour it over His head, I have to be all in, trusting that no matter what happens, it will be with Him and I will be bathed in the fragrance of Christ.
I have to know He is trustworthy. That surrendering my treasure to Him doesn’t mean it isn’t important – it means it is so important that I would rather have the King of the Universe take care of it instead of me. It means He becomes my security, not my self-reliance. When I give it all to Jesus, I am left free to be filled with the peace that surpasses all understanding. It is bold. It is courageous and it leaves us vulnerable to criticism, judgement, or mockery, but not from Jesus. Not from the only one who really matters. I can pour my oil out and dry it with my hair, no matter who is watching or what they may think of me.
This is the freedom of letting myself be loved. Jesus sees me. He defends me. He receives me and knows I have done everything I can. It is enough. It is everything.