Summary: What is Jesus worth to you? For Mary, He was worth everything that she possessed. For Judas He was worth 30 pieces of silver.
MARY’S ALABASTER BOX
Text: Mark 14:1 – 11
Someone once said that worship is the act of sacrificially giving to Jesus something that is precious to us. What would that be for you? Your money? Your time? Your job? For the woman described in this scripture, it was a container of perfume. Let’s look at her story.
This story takes place just before Jesus rides into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. Sometimes, historians back in Jesus’ day didn’t write things in chronological order; they ordered events together to show a comparison or contrast of some sort. Mark identifies the place as the house of Simon the Leper in Bethany. We know almost nothing about this man, but evidently he had suffered from leprosy, and Jesus had healed him.
Mark doesn’t mention the name of the woman, but John identifies her as Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. John says that Martha was serving at this gathering and that Lazarus was sitting with Jesus. Their presence in the story has caused some to believe that Simon may have been their father, or at least a close relative.
Jesus is the guest of honor at this gathering, and as He sits and eats, Mary enters the room with an alabaster box of perfume. Scripture identifies this perfume as spikenard, which was a very expensive fragrance imported from India. In verse 5, this small container of perfume is valued at three hundred pence, which was the equivalent of a year’s salary for a common worker. Some believe that this perfume may have been Mary’s dowry. If that is true, it was probably all that she really possessed.
It was customary to wash the feet and anoint the head of a guest in your house, but Mary goes above and beyond. John says that she anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. She then breaks the container, and pours all of its contents on Jesus’ head.
Immediately, the disciples begin to criticize her. One gospel records that Judas is the most vocal. They claim that Mary has wasted this precious perfume, and that she should have sold it and given the money to the poor instead. Could you imagine how Mary must have felt? After pouring out everything she had as an act of worship, she gets criticized and ridiculed by the disciples of Jesus. I am sure that her heart must have been broken just like the alabaster box that had contained her perfume.
But Jesus puts a stop to their criticism. He tells the disciples to leave her alone, because she has done a good work for Him. He says that they can help the poor anytime they want, but that they will not have very many more opportunities to show their love for Him in person. Jesus had told His disciples on several occasions that He was going to Jerusalem to be put to death, and now He claims that Mary’s act of devotion will serve as the anointing for His death. Although Mary probably didn’t intend for her actions to be interpreted this way, the custom was to first bathe and then anoint the body of a dead person. After the body was anointed, the flask that contained the ointment was to be broken and laid with the body in the tomb. Jesus knew that He would be put to death as a criminal, and that He would be buried without the proper anointing.
Jesus goes on to state that wherever the Gospel is preached that Mary’s act of devotion would be discussed and remembered. We are part of the fulfillment of that prophecy here today as we look at this Scripture.
As I studied this passage, I learned several things. First of all, the alabaster box of ointment contained something that was very precious, but as long as it stayed in the container, it didn’t benefit anyone. John says that when the perfume was poured out upon Jesus that its fragrance filled the house. Jesus called the act a good work, and the original Greek actually means “a beautiful thing.” God has given each one of us a spiritual gift. It may be great faith, acts of service, hospitality, teaching, or some other gift. But if you keep that gift to yourself, it benefits no one. It is your responsibility as a Christian to figure out what your gift is, and then to use it for the glory of God and the benefit of those around you. What good is the gift of preaching if you never preach? What good is the gift of leadership if you never lead?
When Mary wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair, she walked away smelling like Jesus did. When we use what we have for Jesus, others can sense that we have been with Him. If your gift is mercy, you display the mercy that Jesus showed to us when He died in our place. If your gift is evangelism, then you display the love that Jesus has for sinners. The use of our spiritual gifts causes others to sense Jesus’ presence in our lives.