Summary: If our love the great enoough, then there will be a willingness to sacrifice the very best we have.
Unbelievers have always had a hard time figuring out the lifestyle of Christ’s disciples. When you think about it, you can understand their difficulty. They are guided by a life philosophy that promotes selfishness (the attitude that says, “You’ve gotta look out for ‘Number One’”), a philosophy that models greed (“Take what you can get!”), and a philosophy that assigns importance in dollar figures (how often have you heard someone ask, “What do you think he’s worth?”). Guided by such a philosophy, most folks see people trying to be selfless and generous as saps. Christ-centered people in a self-centered world are difficult to understand, and some people will never be convinced it could be anything other than an act to gain others’ confidence in order to manipulate, exploit, and victimize them.
I mean, try to think about it from their perspective: Why would anybody choose to deny himself or herself of any pleasure — no matter how tasteless or vulgar — when life is so short?
Why would people whose lives are at least as busy as theirs carve out time every week for worship, for Bible study, for service projects that do nothing to advance their careers? Why would Christians get involved in the lives of those who are poor and sick, and hurting?
Why would people who are carrying their load already as tax-paying citizens give ten percent or more of their income to the church?
See what I mean? People who don’t know Jesus have a hard time figuring out why people would behave as Christians do! Our answer would be, of course, that we do these things because we love him. He loved us first. He’s done so much for us and continues to do so much for us. And the more we understand that, the greater our love for him becomes.
And because we love him, there is nothing we wouldn’t do for him. He truly is our everything! But how can an “outsider” understand what we mean when we say that?
Our story this morning -- the breaking of the alabaster jar -- shows the difficulty. It is the simple story about a woman who, in the presence of Jesus Christ, was so overwhelmed by the wonder of who he was and by the thought of all he had done in her life, that she did for one time in her life that which many present thought was a foolish thing.
This incident took place while Jesus was on his last journey to Jerusalem. He had stopped over for a few days in the little village of Bethany. While he was there, he was invited to the house of Simon the leper for a dinner in his honor. We don’t know exactly who Simon the leper was. He obviously was a healed leper, or he wouldn’t have been able to host a dinner party. Most likely, he is one of the many people Jesus touched and healed of that awful disease. I think it’s interesting that he was now “Simon the Cured,” but people were still calling him “Simon the Leper” because that’s how he had been known for so long.
Some believe that he was a friend of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Others believe that he may even have been their father. At any rate, John tells us that those three were present along with Jesus, Martha helping to serve the food. The apostles were also there and perhaps a few others who aren’t named.
But Mary is the one on whom our story focuses. John tells us that she was the one who broke the precious alabaster jar and poured the perfume over Jesus.
Oils and perfumes were used widely in the ancient world. Guests entering a house would customarily be given water and a towel to wash their faces, hands, and feet. Often there would be oil to wipe on the dry, parched skin as well. And many families would save and buy an expensive flask of really good aromatic oil or perfume and keep it stored for funeral occasions. There was no embalming among the Israelites. Burial would be within hours after a death, and the body would be washed, perfumed, and laid to rest.
So Mary came into the room with “an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard.” This expensive perfume was made from a plant grown principally in India. The jar likely as more of a flask whose neck would have to be broken to pour the oil out. So Mary broke it open and began to pour it on the head of Jesus.
Keep in mind this happened long before the time of Women’s Lib. It wasn’t this woman’s place to be where she was. Her place as a woman was in the kitchen. Mary should have been in there with Martha, helping to prepare and cook the meal, or so everyone thought. But she was so overwhelmed with love for Jesus that she just had to break tradition. So she took the alabaster jar of expensive perfume and broke it open. She poured it out until every drop was exhausted and the flask empty. John adds that she poured it not only on his head but even his feet as well — and then (although respectable women didn’t unbind their hair in public!) she used her own hair to wipe off Jesus’ feet.