Alabaster Jar

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.  Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”  He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
John 12:1-8

This Holy Week, my church is hosting a collection of daily reflections, each day focusing on a different character in the narrative of Jesus’ final days.  Today, we reflected upon Mary’s anointing of Jesus.

It is commonly held that Mary anointed Jesus with an alabaster jar of pure nard, worth about a year’s wages.  An extravagant gift.  Many reflections dwell upon the value of this act, the monetary investment wrapped up in it.

But today, as I was sitting with this passage, I found myself thinking along another line.  This alabaster jar of nard was usually given to a Jewish female by her parents, traditionally as a bride price.  Therefore, as Mary used this precious gift to anoint Jesus, she must have also been aware of the hopes and dreams associated with this oil as she was pouring it on the Lord’s feet.  Hopes for a wedding, a family, a life filled with love and joy.  That jar, that oil, meant so much more to her than it’s monetary value.  After all, oil is meant to be used.  It is how and where it is used that is significant.

All of the hopes wrapped up in this small jar are wonderful things, and yet, all of them also have the potential to become idols.

alabasterThis made me wonder- What is in my jar? What hopes, dreams, and values am I holding in my jar full of treasures?  What are the things for me, that are valuable beyond simply their monetary worth?

Here is another common misconception.  Mary did not smash the jar to get the oil out.  Instead, when it says she broke the jar, what it means is that she broke the seal on the jar.  God didn’t ask her to smash her dreams to bits in service to Him.  Neither does he ask this of us.  As I was praying through this, I began to understand something more clearly:

I don’t believe that God calls us to sacrifice our dreams,
But he does ask us to surrender them.

To me, the difference between sacrifice and surrender is similar to the difference between smashing the jar and breaking the seal.  When the jar is smashed, its contents become  useless, poured out on the floor amidst sharp shards of the broken vessel.  However, when the seal is broken the jar remains whole, its contents protected.  But the beautiful aroma begins to escape, and permeate the room.

I can admit that there are many dreams I hold that I have been afraid to surrender.  They are too precious to me to be willing to allow God to do what he wants with them. They are too tender even for me to be willing to fully name them, for fear that they won’t come into being.  Yet hoarding them sealed tight in a jar is the one way to guarantee they won’t come into being.  Instead, I think that God is calling me to take a step in trust.  Break the seal.  Allow God to begin working with them, and allow the aroma to begin to permeate my world…

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