Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, there came unto Him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on His head, as He sat at meat. (Matthew 26:6-7, KJV)
Jesus is everywhere. I try to make a conscious effort of recognizing His presence and ushering myself closer to Him through worship. I believe this is why one of my favorite worship songs began to speak to me in a different way lately. In CeCe Winans’s song, The Alabaster Box, she sings the following lyrics:
And though she spoke no words
Everything she said was heard
As she poured her love for the Master
From her box of alabaster.
Those words stirred something in my spirit that led me to look a little deeper into the story of Mary’s alabaster box. I had questions about its meaning…its significance…its lesson for us all. My curiosity led me to the 26th chapter of Matthew. A familiar passage, Matthew 26 is one of several that describes the plot against Jesus that led to His crucifixion. In the text, Jesus is attending a feast in Bethany at the home of Simon, whom Jesus had healed from leprosy. In the presence of those attending the feast, Mary of Bethany presents Jesus with a box of alabaster. Alabaster was mined and used to craft containers and vases during Mary’s time. It was very expensive as was the fragrance inside of Mary’s box. Because an alabaster box of such a precious scent was so rare and valuable, it was often used as the dowry for women. A dowry was a gift presented to the man who a woman was to marry.
Mary approached Jesus with her alabaster box and after washing and drying his feet with her hair, she broke the box over His head anointing Him with the oil inside. I can imagine that Mary treasured her alabaster box. It is not a stretch for me to believe that she kept it in a safe place and daydreamed about who she would give the box to when it was time for her to marry. It was likely her most prized possession yet she chose to break the container and pour out all of its contents over Jesus’s head. Mary’s act of sacrificial worship was met with disdain of Jesus’s disciples, especially Judas. The Word says that while others called Mary wasteful and questioned her decision to sacrifice the oil in the manner in which she did, Jesus understood her.
But when His disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, to what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. When Jesus understood it, He said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. (Matthew 26:8-10, KJV)
During the time that Jesus walked the Earth, it was customary to wash the feet and anoint the head of a guest in your home. Mary went beyond what was required of her when she sat at the feet of Jesus in total submission using her hair to cleanse His feet, then breaking her container over His head. Her actions suggest that she was willing to sacrifice all that she had for Him. While intended for the man that she was to marry, Mary decided that she would not give her alabaster box to anyone else. Instead, she would give her all to Christ. Can you imagine how heartbroken she must have been when her act of worship was ridiculed by the disciples?
Fortunately, the story of the alabaster box does not end with ridicule. Mary served the same understanding God that we serve today and He acknowledged her act as not only an act of worship, but as the anointing for His death. He prophesied that Mary’s devotion to Him as she poured out everything that she had would be shared for generations to come. His prophesy continues to hold true as we explore the story of Mary’s alabaster box right now.
I learned several things from this passage. First, I learned the importance of giving of yourself. Perhaps those of you reading this right now do not own an alabaster box of precious ointment. I certainly do not. However, God has given each one of us a spiritual gift. That gift is precious, but as long as we keep it to ourselves, no one else benefits from it. When Mary broke the alabaster box over Jesus’s head, the scent of the oil filled the room and could be smelled by everyone in attendance. Our spiritual gifts are similar to Mary’s box. It is up to us to recognize our spiritual gifts and to use them to glorify God and help those around us. Do you know what your spiritual gift is? It may be singing, teaching, leadership, acts of service, tremendous faith, hospitality, or something else. Whatever it is, you are charged with the responsibility of sharing that gift with the world. If we look deeper into Mary’s act of worship, we recognize that Mary did not only open the container of oil, she broke it. Mary did not make an attempt to hold back any of her gift for herself. She didn’t save a portion to be used later. She gave her all. Ask yourself if you are giving all that you have by way of your spiritual gifts? If you are not, what is holding you back? Can you do more? Will you do more?
Another thing that I learned through Mary’s encounter is that she did all she could with what she had. I am sure that Mary would have loved to be able to expose the plot against Jesus, stop Him from being falsely accused, and prevent His death. However, she did not focus on what she could not do. Mary did what she could and we see that Jesus was pleased with that. Not all of us have the same gifts. It is easy to recognize the gifts that other people use to glorify God, but often focusing on their gifts prevents you from maximizing your own. So what, you can’t write a huge check to feed families at Thanksgiving? Can you go and visit someone who is in the hospital instead? Can you call and invite someone to church? Can you send an encouraging email to a co-worker who is having a rough week? Build your ministry around your own gifts and not only will God be pleased, He will use you in ways greater than you ever dreamed. I am certain that Mary never knew that her sacrifice would make such an impact on God and on all of Christianity that Jesus declared that it would be preached across the world in memorial of her.
Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her. (Matthew 26:13, KJV)
I learned another important lesson from Mary. When we give of ourselves in worship and total submission in the presence of Christ, people will know that we have been with Him. For Mary, the scent of her perfume lingered upon her after breaking the box over Jesus’s head. For us, it may be a more loving disposition, a more willing heart, or a more forgiving spirit that lingers. Whatever it is, when you have truly engaged in worship, people will sense that something is different about you. His presence will separate you from the world. Have you ever been told that there is just something different about you? Have people ever felt connected to your spirit? How wonderful would it be to reach a point of consistent and sincere worship so that your presence alone would usher people closer to Christ?
Finally, I took note of the disciples’ criticism of Mary. Sadly, their complaints about the way that Mary saw fit to worship Jesus reminds me of many people in the Christian church today. How often have you or others around you frowned upon or even questioned the way that someone expressed their devotion to God? I have heard it all. From criticism about the type of praise and worship music played in church to whether or not it “takes all of that” when people feel led to cry out in praise, we must learn that it is not our place to devalue anyone else’s acts of worship. After all, we will never truly know or understand just what Jesus has done to the heart of anyone other than us. As CeCe Winans says in her song,
And I’ve come to pour my praise on Him like oil from Mary’s alabaster box.
Don’t be angry if I wash his feet with my tears and I dry them with my hair.
You weren’t there the night He found me.
You did not feel what I felt when He wrapped His love all around me
And you don’t know the cost of the oil in my alabaster box.
Above all, it is important that we remember worship for what it is…an act of devotion, adoration, and sacrifice that brings us closer to God and releases His power among His people. I encourage you to commit to using your spiritual gifts, whatever they may be. Regardless of what anyone thinks of you, give all that you have to God. Your act of sacrifice is needed to advance the kingdom. Your gift is yours for a reason. It is not a coincidence. It is not yours for safe-keeping. Start right now. Get tired. Give of yourself until you feel like there is nothing left. The time has come for you to break your alabaster box.
The video below is a cover of CeCe Winans’s song, The Alabaster Box. CeCe is one of my favorite gospel artists and I do not wish to take anything away from her by not including her version of the song in this post. However, this clip was so moving to me because of the unique story of the woman singing it and the impact that she had on those in her presence as she performed it. I was left with the impression that this song is her testimony and that with this performance she has finally cracked open her own alabaster box. Enjoy.