The Alabaster Jar
( Originally Published 1915 )
FROM JERICHO to Jerusalem was a journey of fifteen miles up the mountains by a very steep road; a road often dangerous on account of the robbers who were hidden among the rocks by the wayside. But at the time of the Passover when thousands of people were going up to the feast, it was safe, through the crowds traveling together. Up this road Jesus walked with his disciples and a great throng of people, all on their way to the Passover. He did not, however, go directly to Jerusalem, but turned aside when near the city, and stopped at the village of Bethany for a visit with his friends, Martha and Mary and Lazarus. They were very, very glad to see Jesus now, for you remember that on his last visit, some months before, he had called Lazarus out of his tomb to live again.
It was on Friday, just six days before the Passover was to be held, that Jesus came to Bethany. There, at the house of a man named Simon, a supper was given °in honor of Jesus. This Simon had been a leper, but had been cured by Jesus, so that he had his own reason for showing love and honor to Jesus. At the supper, the guests sat leaning on couches, with their heads toward the table and their feet away from it; and those who waited at thè tables passed the food and drink around to the guests. Among those who were serving at the table was Martha, the sister of Lazarus.
On the couch standing at the head of the table was leaning in the middle Simon, who gave the feast. On his right hand, in the place of honor, was Jesus; and on his left was Lazarus. On the side tables were lying the disciples of Jesus and other guests.
Suddenly, into the room came Mary, the sister of Lazarus. She carried in her arms a jar made of marble, of the kind called alabaster. Its cover was sealed; but Mary broke the seal, and at once a rich perfume arose in the air and floated not only through the dining hall, but the whole house, for the jar was filled with a very fragrant and costly oil. Mary walked up the aisle between the tables and the couches whereon the guests were lying. She came opposite to Jesus, and poured some of the oil upon his head; then walked around the couch, poured the rest of it upon his feet and wiped them with her long hair, hanging loose upon her shoulders.
Everybody in the room was surprised at Mary's act; and one of the disciples of Jesus said aloud :
"What a waste this is? Why, that jar of perfume was worth at least fifty dollars! It might have been sold and the money given to the poor!"
The one who said this was Judas Iscariot, the wicked disciple who was already planning to give up his Lord to his enemies, the chief priests and rulers. Judas was the treasurer for Jesus and his twelve disciples. They all lived as one family, kept their money in one purse, and in addition whatever money was given to Jesus by his friends. Judas kept this purse; but he was a thief, and stole some of the money, that he might use it for himself. When Judas saw all the precious oil poured upon the head and feet of Jesus, he was angry, for he looked upon it as so much money that he might have kept.
"Why do you find fault with this woman?" said Jesus. "It is a beautiful thing that she has done to me. You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. As she poured this perfume on my body, she did it for my burial, which is soon to take place. I tell you, wherever in the whole world my gospel shall be preached, the act of this woman will be told, and she will be remembered on account of it."
All the friends of Jesus were expecting him soon to go to Jerusalem and set up his kingdom and rule. They did not understand his words about dying and rising from the dead. But Mary, among them all, knew that Jesus was soon to die, and it was not only to show her love toward him for bringing her brother to life, but in a very tender way to put into an act what she would not say in words, that her Lord would soon die and be buried.
After this supper, Judas Iscariot, the disciple who had spoken against Mary and her gift, quietly made up his mind to give Jesus over to his enemies. He saw that Jesus would not be such a king as he wished him to be, and he had begun to fear that his stealings were known, or at least suspected. He went secretly to the chief priests and the rulers and said to them :
" What will you pay me if I will give Jesus into your hands?"
They were glad to hear this, and said to him, "We will give you thirty pieces of silver."
This was a little less than twenty dollars in our money, and it was the price paid for a slave. Think of it, for the value of a slave, the Lord of all the earth was sold by one of his own chosen followers !
Judas was sharp in his dealing with the priests. He was afraid that, after he had given Jesus up to them, he might be cheated out of his money. So he said:
"Pay me the money now; and when the right time comes, I will show you how to make Jesus of Nazareth your prisoner."
They gave Judas the thirty pieces of silver; and from that moment Judas was looking for the chance to put Jesus into the hands of his enemies.