What is there about human nature, that causes us to keep the best for ourselves? Even children instinctively grab the largest cookie. For though we all have altruistic moments, altruism does not come to us naturally. And that’s why the telling of the Alabaster jar in the Gospels sets our spirits soaring. Deep inside, we know this is what we need. The alabaster jar lifts us to the place of wanting to get past our selfish selves.
We find the Lord once again in Bethany, perhaps the closest he came to having a place to call home. For it seems as often as he could, he stopped by the home of Mary and Martha, and Lazarus, where honor and welcome always awaited him.
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, (Mark 14:3).
On this occasion, however, so near to the his betrayal and death, we must follow them to the home of Simon who, possibly wishing to honor the One who had cured him of his leprosy, had prepared a banquet. Giving the best he had to the One who had renewed his life.
Whether Mary had prepared her offering beforehand, we don’t know. Perhaps she, most of all had understood the Lord’s talk of death. And wanted to give her very best while she still had opportunity.
Or perhaps, in reckless abandon, she rushed home to get the jar, certain that she must do that one thing. Certain that nothing was too good for this One whom she called Lord.
And so taking the precious jar, worth almost as much as the ointment it contained, she carefully broke the seal, pouring that costly perfume out on that precious head.
And the disciples complained about her gift to the Lord.
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, (Mark 14:4-5).
We tend to think that only Judas Iscariot (the Lord’s traitor) spoke, but we read that it was some of them. No, not only Judas had such thoughts. We all have them.
For there is a part of us that applauds Mary’s generous act of devotion.
And another part which scolds. Part of us wants to serve the Lord with reckless abandon, but it ever battles with our common sense.
And so we sometimes allow our common sense to deter us. Deciding, for instance, it would be fool hardy to quit our job for full-time service in God’s kingdom. Even if we know the Lord has called us. “I’ll do that when I retire,” we say. And we keep our alabaster box tightly sealed.
Or we join the ranks of the scolders by deciding to further pad our already comfortable lives. “Why shouldn’t we have that new car, or bigger house?” we ask. “We’ve worked hard, and we deserve it.” And instead of giving to the poor, needy, or to missions, we break the seal on our alabaster box. But we pour it on our heads, and not the Lord’s.
In countless acts, large and small, day-by-day we decide whether we will open the alabaster jar for the Lord.
And thereby set our spirits free to soar like Mary’s. Or whether we will keep the larger cookie for ourselves. And successfully weigh our spirit down with the world’s sense and sensibility.
I’m not saying the Lord can’t call some people in their retirement years. He deals with each of us in an individual way. Nor am I saying it’s necessarily wrong to get a new car or bigger house.
But the story of the alabaster jar, teaches us the need of giving our best to the Lord.
And not give him merely leftovers, keeping the best for ourselves. Our intentions are often good. And we say, “When I retire. Or after I get this one last thing in place. Or when the kids are just a little older.” Well-intentioned reasoning, but based on this world’s logic. Often tied to common sense or financial savvy.
Reading the 14th chapter of Mark always make my spirit take wings with Mary’s. Showing me that though we may not have such great riches, in our own way we each have our own alabaster jar. And our alabaster jars always belong to the Lord. But it’s up to us to give them back to him.
How about you? Do you pour your alabaster jar out on the Lord, or are you just giving him the leftovers?