Back in the day, Jewish women were barred from public speaking.  They couldn’t even read the Torah out loud, worship in the synagogue was segregated, and the law was explicit: “He who talks with a woman in public brings evil upon himself,” and “One is not so much as to even greet a woman.”  I can’t imagine living among such oppression.

However, Jesus treated women very differently and in doing so, encountered criticism.   He valued women, even in an anti-women culture, and he treated them with love, dignity and respect.  And there were two women that not only talked to Jesus, but actually touched him, the first one being the topic of this story in this New Year.

This first woman poured out costly oil from a most treasured alabaster box.  Alabaster is semi-translucent and comes in several shades, from pure white to a dark creamy color, with veins running through. 

The stone was precious and represented purity and transparency.  Alabaster was given to daughters as they approached marrying age, sort of like a dowry.  It could be a box, a bottle or a jar or vase.  The oil inside was called spikenard, what we might know as lavender today. The more ornate the vessel and the more costly the oil inside, the better chance a daughter had of marrying well!   So it wasn’t uncommon for Mary to have this box, but the way she chose to use it certainly was.

Mary of Bethany was a bit of a rebel but also the quintessential worshipper.  She seated herself at the feet of Jesus instead of helping Martha in the kitchen, and Jesus said she had chosen “the better thing.”  It was also this Mary that Jesus asked to see when heard that his friend Lazarus had died.  Some say the reason Jesus wept was because Mary hadn’t quite recognized Jesus as the Son of God, yet.  However, when she heard Jesus pray and saw her brother alive again, she knew.

In John 12, Mary took her own alabaster box and broke it and anointed Jesus’ feet in worship of full recognition of who He was.  She anointed Jesus’ head and his feet!  When the disciples saw this, they chastised her for wasting the ointment, when it could have been used for the poor. Judas, who later betrayed Jesus, scolded Mary. But Jesus rose to Mary’s defense stating, “Leave her alone; against the day of my burying she has done this.  The poor you will have with you always, but not me.”  And, helping the poor probably wasn’t even on the minds of the disciples, but rather just chastising her in front of Jesus.

Mary was brave in her encounters with Jesus, but she was also pure and transparent.  It may have taken her a little time to recognize fully just who He was, but when she did – she did it with gusto!  She GAVE out of her treasure.

In the books of Matthew and Mark, Jesus said she did “what she could” and that what she did will be memorialized for all time.  And she has been.  Her story reminds us that even when we are slow to recognize who Jesus is, He always knows who we are and accepts our lavish gifts that we lay at his feet.  He’s approachable…always.

You and I don’t have alabaster boxes or expensive ointment, or the opportunity to physically sit at Jesus’ feet.  But we can sit in His presence and reach out and touch Him.  We can recognize who He is and also choose to give him our all, trusting that He will receive it with joy, just because He loves us that much and values his most prized possession – those he’s created for worship and relationship with Him.

Women, of all races, shapes and background – none is excluded from – but all are welcome to see Him, recognize Him, and experience His great love and acceptance.

Mary of Bethany
by Debbie Haynes

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