Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Alabaster Jar

by Julie Smith

Have you ever done anything totally extravagant—something so outrageous and costly that it might take you some time to recover financially? If you have, it has probably been done for love. Either you have loved some thing or some one so much you just couldn’t help yourself.

There is just such a record of a costly, extravagant impulse recorded in the Gospels. In fact, even though it happened over 2,000 years ago today, it is still talked about; it has been recorded in numerous art portrayals, and has in essence come to epitomize an act of extravagance in the name of love. You’ve probably already guessed whom I’m talking about. It is Mary Magdalene and the alabaster jar of expensive nard.

It probably wasn’t one of the smartest things she had done. But then, considering her history—who cared. People already whispered when she came into a room. She already knew that you she wasn’t talked about in polite company. But her heart ached to do something for Christ. He had restored her life. Taken it back, in essence, from the spirits of evil that had controlled her life—kept her captive.

He was speaking of being put to death. Time was short. She sensed the animosity and hatred of the religious leaders. Well she knew and understood the attitude and intent of their hearts. She was quite familiar with the darkness that could reside in the human soul. She knew what the disciples refused to know—that time was short. She must act quickly.

What do you give to the person that you love the most? How do you decide what to give someone that doesn’t need material possessions? He didn’t have a home, land, horses, and carried very little with him. A new pair of sandals? No, obviously that was not going to express the intentions of her heart.

Something costly—extravagant—a once in a lifetime gift. Something that expressed the beautiful fragrance of love and gratitude and worship that she felt for her healer, master, teacher, and friend. Ah, fragrance—how fitting. She would pour out a love offering of beautiful essence that would signify her prayers and worship. Kind of like the incense burned at the altar in the temple, only something she could anoint his body with. Yes—this was perfect.

Jesus had said that he would be delivered to the religious leaders and killed at the Passover celebration. She hoped beyond hope that this wasn’t true. But evidence was mounting in that direction that he spoke the truth. Six days before the Passover was a dinner planned where she would able to give her gift. Her sister Martha was serving, and Lazarus was there—maybe a celebration dinner of his new life. Certainly she would have the opportunity to give it to him then.

She would have liked to give the gift to him in private—but he was seldom alone. Opportunities just didn’t present themselves. As dinner was drawing to a close, things were noisy and boisterous. She decided she could act without anyone noticing. The thing she forgot, however, was the strength of the essence of nard. There was no hiding what she had done. The fragrance enveloped the room. Everything grew quiet.

People stared, men mostly, at the woman kneeling at the feet of Jesus, weeping. Harsh words were spoken regarding her character and intent. Her generous gift was misunderstood. Jesus spoke, silencing the criticisms. “She has done this for my burial. Leave her alone. Her good deed will be remembered and discussed wherever my story is told.”

Have you ever considered what bravery and courage it took to do such a radical thing? But then, we don’t always act rationally when we are in love. This love was different than anything she had ever known. It had blossomed and grown in her heart as she had basked in the redeeming embrace of Divine love. A love of similar quality had been reciprocated in her heart. It was expressed in her gift, in her being the last at the cross, and the first at the tomb.

Faith and love had opened her eyes and her heart. Her great need had been the factor in making her receptive to important truths that the apostles had missed. She was looked upon as the most needy and the most unworthy, but it was this very thing that qualified her to be the Apostle to the Apostles. She was blessed with a faith and trust to show the way.

Things are no different today. It is only in our great need and a desire to be loved that we are filled. When we are empty and desire the blessings of the Divine presence in our hearts, it is then that we can be filled. Never let anything keep you from thinking that God doesn’t desire your company and love. You are God’s precious child.


  1. What a blessing to see this act from such a different perspective. Yes, we do financially unwise acts when we are in love, and this financially unwise act shows Mary's great love for Christ.