The Aroma of Brokenness

12 06 2008

            In Mark 14:3-9 we find a woman breaking open an alabaster box of ointment and pouring its contents on the head of Jesus.  Different angles of the narrative are given in Matthew and John.  We find that that the woman was Mary, sister of Lazarus (who was raised from the dead) and Martha.  She is the same Mary found at the feet of Jesus while Martha was “cumbered about with much serving”.  She came, undoubtedly, with a personal possession every woman would want to keep for herself.  It was a very expensive perfume held in the finest container of its day – alabaster (a marble type stone that seals easily). Instead of breaking the seal and pouring out an ounce or two, she broke the whole box!  In Mark she anointed His head; in John 12 she anointed His feet also.  Both passages give the price tag of 300 pence.  In the parable of the Laborers, a pence (or “penny”) was the daily wage of an agricultural laborer.  The Good Samaritan gave two pence to the innkeeper for being a care giver for the injured Jew.  The ointment costing 300 pence was enormous!  At minimum wage for a modern laborer, it would be over $8500.  Her act was criticized by some, but complemented by our Lord. 

            Because of the high quality of Mary’s spikenard, I wonder if the aroma lingered at Gethsemane, before Pilate, on the cross.  I wonder if her devotion not only prepared Jesus for burial, but also gave sweetness to His death.  I do know that He was pleased with Mary’s act of devotion.  The broken alabaster box, spilling its precious contents on the head and feet of Jesus, would be her universal claim to fame (Mark 14:9).

            With this incident, an analogy can be made between the “Alabaster Christian” and the “Spikenard Christian”.  Both possess a precious commodity.  They both have “treasures in earthen vessels” (II Corinthians 4:7).

            The Alabaster Christian believes that their service to Jesus consists of keeping their container clean and shinny, they are contained, self-sufficient, encased, individually complete, yet there is no sweet aroma emitting from them. They spend much money and energy improving their boxes; they are frowned upon and sometimes avoided.  They file into church one by one and sit in pews like separate alabaster boxes, and they look good!  They speak box talk; hair, clothes, job, sports, hobbies, everything external.

            The Alabaster Christian would say to Mary, “You sure have a fine looking alabaster box.”  She would reply, “So what, the box is not to show off, but to hold the precious contents inside.”  Then she broke her box (gasp!).  Soon the whole room was filled with the sweet smell of spikenard, and Jesus was pleased.  As earthen vessels containing a heavenly treasure, we will be of no use unless we are broken, allowing the content of Jesus’ life to be spilled out for the benefit of others.

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