I’ve been reading a book called Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes with a group of guys who are all Christian graduate students at Berkeley this academic year. It seeks to add cultural context to many familiar stories about Jesus, from his birth at Christmas to his many parables. We just finished a section on “Jesus and Women” in which we examined how Jesus interacts with and magnifies women during His ministry.
My favorite story out of these is that of the alabaster box (Luke 7:36-50). You might also know it as the story of the woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee. I call it the alabaster box story because as a kid I associated it with Cece Winans’ song by that title—and because it’s shorter. In the story, an outcast approaches Jesus in the middle of a meal he’s been invited to. She brings an alabaster box of perfume, pours it on Jesus’ feet, and proceeds to wash his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair.
As a man of decorum, Simon the Pharisee bristles and says that Jesus would know what sort of sinful woman was touching him if he were really a prophet. Jesus proceeds to laud the woman for her beautiful display of worship and convict Simon for his self-righteousness and thinking that he doesn’t need a savior.
As a man of decorum, I can’t even imagine having the courage to display that much affection in public. Feel free to replace the word “decorum” here with timidity, fear, or reservation—any of those are probably more accurate. While I tend to reserve my worship for places where it is encouraged and expected, like church or my bedroom, this woman sacrificed any notion of self-preservation literally at Jesus’ feet. This is true humility exemplified—having no consideration for ourselves or our reputations as we serve our maker.
Perhaps the most beautiful thing about this story is that this woman was an outcast and yet we have so much to learn from her. This reminds us that we have something to learn from every person we encounter. She experienced forgiveness from Jesus and felt compelled to respond. Her response may not make sense to the casual observer, but it certainly made sense to her and to Jesus. One line of Cece Winans’ song stuck out to me this week as I listened to it—“You don’t know the cost of the oil in my alabaster box, you don’t know the cost of my praise.” The oil from her alabaster box that she poured out was a costly sacrifice, but it was worth it because of how much Jesus had forgiven her. This left me wondering what the cost of oil in my alabaster box would be for all that Jesus has forgiven me. Jesus has forgiven each one of us of everything we’ve ever done and will do.
How will we respond?
I’ll do so by pushing myself beyond where I am comfortable or where I expect God to encounter me. For me, this ranges from not stopping the worship songs that spill out of my mouth as I walk or bike around Berkeley to praying out loud for my friends and talking more about the amazing things God does in my life each day.
How will you respond?
From “Alabaster Box”:
“Until the day when Jesus came to me and healed my soul with the wonder of His touch.
So now I’m giving back to Him all the praise He’s worthy of. I’ve been forgiven and that’s why
I love Him so much.”