In the Bible, there is a story of the woman with the alabaster jar. She goes to see Jesus, and she pours out her perfume on his feet. This woman is known for her extravagant act of love. We can learn a lot from her example. Here are 10 lessons we can learn from the woman with the alabaster jar.
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The Story of the Woman with the Alabaster Jar
The woman with the alabaster jar is a beautiful story of a woman’s selfless love and confession to Jesus.
A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. (Luke 7:36-27 NIV)
The woman with the alabaster jar’s story teaches us how we can begin to live a faith-filled life of joy and peace.
At the same time, from a practical point of view, I can understand why the Pharisee looked down on her and judged her.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner. (Luke 7: 39 NIV)
At first glance, her actions seem selfish and wasteful. After all, she poured out a year’s worth of wages on somebody’s feet. However, the woman with the Alabaster jar story a little more.
Where to Find the Story of the Woman with the Alabaster Jar
- Matthew 26: 6-13
- Mark 14: 3-9
- Luke 7: 36-50
- John 12:1-8
Nobody knows for sure who this woman was. Some commentators suggest Mary Magdalene, but there’s no evidence.
In Matthew, Mark, and John, many commentators believe this was Mary, sister of Lazarus.
In addition, many commentators consider Lukes’s story to be a different account than the other three gospels.
For the purpose of this article, I’ve chosen to focus on the account in Luke.
One thing we can be confident about is that she was a known sinner. This meant that she was probably a prostitute or another type of person who would have been shamed in the culture at that time.
But, the more important thing to know is that she loved Jesus and must have possessed great courage and determination.
As I read her story, I wonder:
- What happened right before she came into the pharisee’s house?
- What were her thoughts?
- Did anybody try and stop her?
- And why did she choose this moment to break her jar?
While some of these questions we may never know the answer to, there is a great many lessons we can learn from her story.
So What is an Alabaster Jar of Perfume?
It had no handles and was furnished with a long neck which was broken off when the contents were needed…We may fairly deduce that this perfume was costly. Jewish ladies commonly wore a perfume flask suspended from a cord round the neck, and it was so much a part of them that they were allowed to wear it on the sabbath.” Reference: Study Guide for Luke 7 by David Guzik (blueletterbible.org)
3 Notes About the Alabaster Jar:
- Was most likely worth a year’s wages.
- It could have been a family heirloom.
- This portable jar could be sold if needed.
What has been the nicest gift you have ever received?
The first thing that comes to my mind is my wedding ring. While not worth a year’s wages, it is by far the most expensive and valuable thing I own.
Now, take the most important thing you can think of and then imagine giving it away.
That is what this woman’s gift was. An extravagant display of devotion to Jesus. She knew what Jesus had was worth more than her most precious item.
Not only that but she went above and beyond what was customary at that time.
Ordinarily, when a guest arrived, it was customary to anoint the guest’s head with a dab of oil. She poured out all her perfume onto Jesus’s feet.
So what can we learn from this unique story and how does it apply to us today?
10 Lessons from the Woman with the Alabaster Jar
1. Our service is to Jesus only
The woman comes into the room and focuses on Jesus and Him alone. There were many people in the room at the time. But, the woman knew she didn’t need anyone else’s approval. She only needed Jesus.
2. We may have to go against the culture
In many places around the world, Christians are beaten, murdered, and mocked every day.
Here in the United States, we are not persecuted for believing in God.
You may have had people make fun of you or argue with you or call you names, and while that is persecution, that’s not the persecution I am talking about.
However, God didn’t promise us a life of ease but, He did promise that He would be worth the cost.
And sometimes that cost may go against everything and everyone else’s beliefs.
There were many ways the woman with the jar exemplified this.
- She came into the Pharisee’s home. She was a notorious sinner so she wouldn’t have been welcomed.
- She broke an expensive jar to pour out on someone’s feet. (It was most likely meant to anoint Jesus’s head but his feet may have been as close as she could get.)
- And her hair was flowing down, which was considered immodest in that culture.
3. Sometimes we must act
We aren’t told if the woman in this story weighed all her options, but we are told about her actions.
I don’t know about you, but before I make a decision, I need at least three references, five options, and my dog’s opinion.
And while research and knowing all the facts is a worthwhile investment, at some point, we have to make a decision.
But the most important decision we need to act on is to follow Jesus, whatever the cost. And God will take care of the rest.
4. Do what you can
I often think I don’t know or have enough experience to do x, y, or z. And while that is true in some avenues of our lives, God doesn’t ask for our resume and credentials.
In fact, many of his apostles/disciples were ordinary uneducated men. (and women). Jesus himself was an ordinary carpenter. (Mark 6:-2-4)
The woman with the alabaster jar most likely did not think herself worthy or capable of anything worthwhile. Little did she know her story would be told for generations.
Jesus wants us where we are and He will take care of the rest. God can make anything and everything beautiful and extraordinary with his power.
Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; We are all the work of your hand. (Isaiah 64:8 NIV)
5. We are all sinners in need of God’s grace
Simon couldn’t believe Jesus would allow this behavior, but in Simons’s self-righteousness, he showed his true heart.
Jesus saw the woman’s heart for what it was and gently brought her the gift of grace.
6. Jesus sees the real you
Just like he saw the woman’s love and repentance, Jesus sees you. You’re not condemned if you confess your sins and profess your love to God.
He comes along beside you, ugly sin and all. He sees past all our ugliness and brokenness and wants to pull us beside him.
God looks at us as he wants us to be and knows we can be, he blots out our sins and transgressions.
7. Jesus is a God of emotion
God created emotions.
This woman’s tears indicated great emotion. She needed to be as close to Jesus as possible.
Do you remember the moments when tears gushed from your eyes before you could blink? For me, I think of:
- The birth of my children,
- My wedding day,
- and the day I graduated from college.
All those moments were fraught with diverse emotions: relief, sadness and fear, and sheer immense, uncontained joy.
8. God has forgiven us
Some commentators state the woman had most likely already asked for forgiveness privately and was now given public forgiveness.
Who knows why she felt she needed to ask for forgiveness again?
Perhaps she went back to her previous sin life? Or maybe she needed reassurance and proof to those who doubted her heart.
We can only speculate.
But what is evident, is Jesus’s forgiveness is offered again and again.
I don’t know about you, but I sin daily. But we know God’s forgiveness is complete and whole the first time.
Yet in God’s grace, we come before him on bended knees and every time He forgives us.
Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:47-48 NIV)
9. Our faith saves us
It’s as simple and complex as that.
And we will spend our whole lives acting because of our faith, in response to God’s great mercy and love.
Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:50 NIV)
10. Finally, Go in peace
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just sit at the feet of Jesus all day on a mountaintop?
But we all must come down from the mountain top.
Ordinary life must go on. We must pay the bills, get our kids to school, and take a shower occasionally.
Jesus wanted more for the woman in our story and he wants more for us. So he tells her to go in peace.
Because we know Jesus, we can go out into the world with the peace and joy that surpasses understanding.
No, this doesn’t mean every day will be perfect or even good, but at the end of the day, we know where our hope lies.
We praise Him not only for our own sake but so that the world may know Jesus and have the same joy we have.
The woman with the alabaster jar is a unique and valuable story in the Bible
Her story teaches us that we don’t have to be extraordinary to make a difference. God can use us where we are.
And remember God has forgiven us beyond measure. Nothing we do can separate us from the love of God.
May you spend your whole life as a testament to God’s wonderful grace and love.
Go in peace.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39 NIV)
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