Monday, June 25, 2012

Lessons from the Alabaster Box

~ Erin Blair

Throughout this life we are surrounded by so many things, so many distractions.  Sometimes I feel like I am in a whirlwind trying to get everything done and in its place.  Working in a law firm, I am constantly trying to meet deadlines for filing legal documents, scheduling clients, getting cases ready for court, and so much more.  I’ll admit it is hard for me to just forget all about those things I have to do at work and focus on my first love, God.  God should be first in our lives, everything else comes second.  This means that God needs to come before work, our children, our spouses, keeping the house “spotless,” having laundry all caught up, and having a warm, delicious meal on the table every night.  It is all about priorities, giving up everything else to put our first love back in His place, first.

In Mark 14:3-9 we read that Jesus went to the house of Simon the leper in Bethany to have a meal.  As they were eating, a woman came with an alabaster box of ointment of very precious spikenard and poured it on Jesus’ head.  Of course as we read along we see that some of them that were there (probably some of the disciples) were upset saying that it was a waste to anoint His head with the spikenard because it could have been sold and the money given to the poor.  Let me run off on rabbit chase for just a moment:  it was not necessarily wrong that they wanted to sell the ointment and give the money to the poor.  They thought that they had good intentions.  After all, Jesus commanded to “sell all you have and give it to the poor” (Mark 10:21).  So why did Jesus rebuke them in verse 6?  Because she did a good work by anointing His body for burial (v. 8). 

We have all read this passage before and there are many things to learn from it.  But I want to look at one thing in particular about this passage that you may not have noticed or considered before.  Why does the scripture go and say what she brought was an “alabaster  box of ointment of spikenard very precious”?  I mean, the writer could have just said she brought a box of ointment and anointed Him with it and we still would have gotten the lesson of her preparing His body for burial. Why an “alabaster box of spikenard” rather than just “a container of ointment”?  In order to answer this question, we need to go back in time and have a history lesson about the customs, culture and location of the time this was written.

When Christ was at Simon’s house, the culture and custom of the day was for young women to store up a dowry for marriage. This dowry consisted of anything ranging from clothing, home furnishings, gold, silver, jewels/jewelry, money, perfume and many more varying items.  One item that was very popular, especially among the girls of a wealthy family, was to have an alabaster box of perfume, or spikenard, laid aside to wear on her wedding day and the days after that. It was a very expensive perfume and incense coming all the way from India and the surrounding region.  Part of the reason it was so expensive is the material the flask was made out of, Alabaster.  Alabaster (Oriental alabaster or alabastrites) was a mineral that was mined in the Far East and was considered very precious.  It was mined in quarries in the Orient and is also found near Egypt, and because so much work was done in mining it and fashioning it into boxes, vases, and various other things, it was very hard to come by and very expensive.  It was a very precious item for a young woman to have and she would place it in a very safe place to save until she would wear that perfume for her husband on their wedding day.  This woman probably sat many times in her room, running her hands over the alabaster box, thinking of who it could be that she would wear that perfume for as she was joined to her husband.

But what is the significance of her anointing Jesus with this perfume?  By breaking the Alabaster box before she was married, she signified that Jesus Christ was more deserving of this expensive, precious ointment than her future husband.  By breaking the box, she basically said, “I would rather spend all this money, all this precious costly perfume on Christ than wait to wear it for my husband.”  She considered Christ to be more important than her husband.  She could have easily said, “No, I’ll wait to break the box for my husband.  Christ can have this other, cheaper perfume that I don’t really care for anyway.  He can have the second-best.”  But she decided to put Christ first before anything else.  She sacrificed her money and her dreams of wearing some of the best perfume of that day for her husband all to show that Christ had the first place in her heart.

We need to be like this woman and break our “Alabaster box for God.  Now our “Alabaster box” will all be different due to our different situations in life.  But they key is to be willing to sacrifice much for God.  We need to be willing to give up our most precious item for God and not do so grudgingly.  If a woman who bought such a costly ointment in the hopes of having it for her husband can give it all up for Christ, then we can certainly give up time, money, or whatever we need to for God.  We need to put God back as our first love in life and not get distracted by the things of the world that take up our time and “demand” our “alabaster flask”.  I pray that we are all willing to “break our Alabaster box” at the feet of Christ and put Him back as our first love. 

Erin is the wife of Jordan Blair who preaches for the New Madrid church of Christ in New Madrid, MO. Erin currently teaches the teen girls class and has helped with preparing and working with church activities like Ladies Days, Prom Alternatives, Youth Rallies and VBS. She is currently working as a paralegal for a law firm.

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