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The Alabaster Jar

April 6th, 2016

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 14:9)

Money can capture our hearts and demand worship from our souls that should only go to God. There is an example here of someone’s dedication and a warning to us all of the danger of worshiping money.

The woman with the alabaster jar: Christ was just days away from his crucifixion and knew well the pending destiny he had with the cross. Yet he did not allow it to distract him from displays of affection. He enjoyed being with his friends and was eating at the house of Simon the Leper. This tell us much about the character of God, that he delights in the worshipful praise of believers, who come to him in utmost sincerity of heart and in thanksgiving for their salvation, and for his love and friendship.

Mark leaves the woman unnamed who brought an expensive perfume from far off India, and broke the alabaster jar, and poured it on Jesus’ head.  John’s version of this story (John 12:1-11) tells us that the woman was Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, and no doubt Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus from the dead was a significant motive for her gesture.

There has been a significant amount of conjecture about Mary and her lavish display of affection. Perhaps there were other hidden things in her past. There are always details we do not know about in the lives of others, matters in their private lives – sins, hurts, shameful events in their past, intimate places of the soul where the grace  of God has touched them. We each carry these things in our hearts, and if we can, by the help of God and the power and witness of the Scripture and the Spirit, see them covered in the grace of Christ, and understand his love as conquering them, then we are blessed.

Whatever went on in the heart of Mary, this was a “good” or “beautiful” thing that she did for Christ, that expressed her love, gratitude, devotion, and joy. Mark says she poured it on his head, and John said that she poured it on his feet and dried them with her hair. Doubtless both are true, that both head and feet were anointed, and there is no necessary conflict in the accounts.

The complaint: It was worth a year’s wage and some complained of the waste. They said that it could have been sold and given to the poor, but their hearts were not for the poor. Judas complained (John 12:6) but his concern was selfish, for as “keeper of the money bag” or as treasurer for the disciples, he was pilfering the money, stealing for himself.

Jealousy is common in society, even among Christians. Many believe that anyone in ministry should never make a decent salary. But the scriptures speak otherwise:

Don’t we have the right to food and drink? … For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. (1 Cor. 9:4,9-14)

Those of us who serve the Lord should give our service gladly, sacrificially, without complaint for what we receive or the challenges and hardships he entrusts to us. Our service is our act of obedience and an expression of love and devotion. But the giving to the Lord’s work is also an expression of love and devotion.

The expression of love: No one was more compassionate to the poor than Jesus. The faith we call Christian is commanded to be considerate to the poor, to help them. Christ said, “The poor you will always have with you” (Mark 14:7), and his words were not uttered in hardness of apathy against the poor. Rather they were a gentle rebuke to those who only saw room to criticize her lavish gift.

We should not stifle the love people have in their heart for Christ, nor the expressions of their love. Such things are holy, sacred, meaningful. They are evidences of the grace and mercy of God moving in people’s lives. Let people praise, give thanks, and demonstrate their love for Christ the way they wish to, for these are mere signs of the work of God in them.

Even a poor man wishes to express his love in as gracious and as lavish a way as anyone else.

But Lord have pity on the person who can never see this aspect of the human heart, who sees everything through the lens of the worship of money.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6:19-21)

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