Breaking The Alaster Cruse

by Tom Wacaster
(Tom is our second son)

The beautiful story of Mary and the alabaster cruse is recorded in John 12:1-8. It is, perhaps, one of the more well known incidents in the life of Jesus. I typed “John 12:1-8” into my Mozilla Fire Fox browser and an astonishing 22,600,000 links were provided for my investigation. When I typed in “Matthew 26:6-13” (parallel account), I received 3,400,000 links. The search on “Mark 14:3-9” produced 506,000 links. That is a total of more than 26,000,000 links to the three parallel passages, far more than I could ever hope to investigate. In comparison, I typed in “atheism” and received only 7,550,000 links; “evolution,” 16,300,000; “Hollywood,” 19,500,000. The large number of links to various sites that tell of this touching story of Mary and the alabaster cruse attest to the fulfillment of our Lord’s prophecy: “Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, that also which this woman hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her” (Matt. 26:13).

Multiple sermons have been preached that focus upon the act of Mary in breaking the alabaster box and pouring the ointment upon the head and feet of Jesus (Matt. 26:6-7; John 12:1-3). John does not mention the cruse itself. For whatever reason, John only mentions the oil; not the container. John wanted us to focus our attention upon that which was “very precious” to Mary. The value of what was in that alabaster cruse was recognized even by the most avarice of heart, such as that of Judas. He considered the act of Mary a waste of money.

There is something in that wonderful act of Mary that not only touches the heart, but challenges us to follow in her footsteps; something much deeper than a simple expression of thanksgiving, or an act of sorrowful remorse for what lay down the road for our Lord. Did the cruse have some sentimental value to Mary? Had it been given to her as a gift from someone close to her? Had she sacrificed more than a month’s wages (perhaps even a year’s wages) to purchase this “very precious” ointment, maybe as some kind of hedge against inflation; perhaps even an investment of some kind? These are questions that intrigue the mind, but must wait until eternity for an answer. Here is an act that would live in perpetuity, as declared by our Lord Himself. What is the real lesson behind the breaking of the alabaster cruse? In my estimation it is this: When Mary broke the alabaster cruse she declared in that action the majesty of Jesus! Consider the following:

First, Mary is indicative of multitudes of precious souls who have given their best to the Master. The monetary value of that cruse of “very precious ointment” may never be fully realized. I don’t know if any of you men have ever shopped for “very precious” perfume, but I can tell you, it is not cheap. One source suggests that the 300 denarii it took to purchase this cruse of oil may very well have been the equivalent of a year’s wages. I could not prove that if my life depended on it. All I know is that it was not cheap, for otherwise Judas would not have responded the way he did. The point I am trying to make is this: Mary recognized the majesty of Jesus and she wanted to give Him the best that money could buy!

Second, Mary wanted to express her love for the Lord while there was still time. She must have realized the impending death of our Lord; her actions here prove that to be the case. Perhaps she had heard one of the Lord’s prophetic statements regarding what would happen to Him upon His return to Jerusalem. The point I am making here is this: The mere desire to perform some kind deed and/or expression of love is of no value once a person has died; we must act while the object of our love is still alive. Some years ago the singing group, Mike and the Mechanics recorded ‘In The Living Years.” A couple of stanzas of that song express this exact sentiment:

I wasn’t there that morning
When my Father passed away
I didn’t get to tell him
All the things I had to say

I think I caught his spirit
Later that same year
I’m sure I heard his echo
In my baby’s new born tears
I just wish I could have told him
In the living years.

Mary realized the importance of declaring the magnificence of Jesus while He was yet alive.

Third, Mary’s appreciation for the magnificence of Jesus is seen in the fact that she performed this act in the presence of all. She was not ashamed of what others might say; she was only concerned with expressing her love for, and appreciation of Jesus. Our devotion to God must not be hidden. “Ye are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a lamp, and put it under the bushel, but on the stand; and it shineth unto all that are in the house. Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 3:14-16). The true value of Christianity comes when we break our alabaster cruse and allow the fragrance of Jesus in our lives to influence others. An unknown author observed, “Until our outward man–our soul–is broken, the fragrance of Christ in our inward man cannot come forth.”

The story of Mary and her alabaster cruse is set in concrete (so to speak). Where ever the gospel has gone, men have read, and continue to read of Mary’s selfless devotion to the Lord, and the price she was willing to pay to uplift Jesus in the eyes of those who happened to be at that supper in that little insignificant town of Bethany. The extent to which that story has gone into the world is manifest in the tens of millions of websites that now provide a link for us to read, and re-read the inspired record. How about you, dear reader? Can you not see the magnificence of Jesus expressed in those events that unfolded in that small town of Bethany? Oh that you would!