The Alabaster Jar

An imagining of what the Luke 7 woman may have been like

 -From Luke 7:36-50-

By Barbara Clausen

I covered my ears against the sound of the trumpet. Twice more the hazzan blew the usual two notes to usher in the Sabbath. I cautiously peeked out of my window, not wanting to be seen. Almost as one, the homes of the Jewish people began to glow as the traditional lamps were lit. I was a Jew as well but there would be no lamp lit in my room on this Sabbath or on any other. You see, my room was in a brothel. That’s where I practiced my trade. I could hear the low murmur of prayers being lifted up to God. Startled by a cold tear splashing on my cheek, I jerked myself away from the scene spread out before me. It was pure foolishness anyway, I thought, as I impatiently wiped away my tears. What a waste of time. Even the Romans laughed and said that the Jews lost the seventh part of their lives to the Sabbath. True, I did not work on the Sabbath either, but a woman has to have a day of rest, too. Besides, I observed that one custom in memory of my father, not God. I gave up on God a long time ago when He took my father and allowed evil times to come upon my mother and me. I wanted noting to do with Him and I am sure He wanted nothing to do with a harlot like me. Still, as I sat in my dark room, I could picture that glow of unity in the town and a feeling of loneliness swept over me. I couldn’t help remembering the Sabbaths of my girlhood when Papa, Mama and I were all together. My Papa loved the Sabbath and the time it provided to pray and worship God. As the lamps were lit, he would often say, “The Sabbath has begun to shine.” And I knew by the tone of his voice that it was his heart that would shine most of all. I loved to hear his prayers. But, the Sabbath no longer shone for me and I was able to shut my heart to this Sabbath as well as to the hundreds before it. A shopkeeper, my father dealt in a variety of merchandise brought in by the traveling merchants and peddlers. When I was twelve, a merchant came to my father with an alabaster jar of spikenard, which was a rare and very expensive perfume from India, used only for special occasions or to anoint the dead. Usually frugal, my father was impressed by the beauty of the long necked flask and splurged on it as a special present for me. He said he wanted to give me something beautiful because I was turning into a beautiful woman. He was a good and sensitive man who I dearly loved. Two weeks later, my father was robbed and killed while he was travelling to the next town on business. I swore right then that I would never break open that alabaster jar. It represented everything good in my father. Without the support of my father, we were forced to move in with my mother’s brother and his family. It didn’t take me long to realize that not all men were kind and gentle. My uncle was downright cruel and his sons followed in his steps. I was thirteen when I ran away to the town of Nain. With only two things of value, my alabaster jar of spikenard and my own determination, I tried to find work, but there just weren’t any jobs available. When I was half starved and desperate, this man came to me and told me the only way a girl alone could survive in the city. So turning my back on my family and everything I had known, I moved into the brothel and began my career as a prostitute. I found other ways of making a living, too. I learned to cheat and swindle with the best of them. The seeds of hate had started growing in me when my father had been murdered and I really did not care who I hurt. After awhile, I even had young girls working for me. I was a friend to no one and an enemy to all. I would not be left at the mercy of anyone else ever again. I knew what they said about me in the town. I saw the way they laughed and the way pious people would cross the street as I passed by. It only fueled my bitterness and caused me to become even more aggressive and mean. Until the next morning … One of my girls came barging into my room with some news. “Miss, you’ve got to come see. There’s a commotion in the city. Everybody’s talking about it!” She was flushed and excited. I snapped at her as I continued brushing my hair, “What am I, a soldier? I don’t have time for foolishness. If there’s trouble, the authorities will handle it. As long as it stays away from me, I could care less.” She was persistent and said, “You don’t understand. There’s no trouble, at least not yet. It’s this man. This man called Jesus. When He was coming into the town, a dead man was being carried out. The only son of a widow. He told the woman not to weep any more. Then, He touched the funeral couch and the pallbearers stood still. He told the dead man to rise and he did! He sat right up!” (Taken from Luke 7:11-17) “I should slap you for telling tales,” I spat. “What a liar you are. Or maybe just a fool. You believe anything anyone tells you.” She was too excited to be quiet, so she continued, “Not only that! He’s telling the people about the Kingdom of God and about how He is the One that was to come to save the people.” I looked at her wryly. “All I need is another Pharisee telling me how sinful I am, like I don’t know it. Well, I don’t care either. Most of them are bigger sinners than I am, only they don’t want to talk about that, the hypocrites!” She wouldn’t give up. “But this Man is different. I think He really is a Messenger of God. He …” I cut her off. “Don’t you think I’ve heard it all before? God doesn’t send messages for the likes of me, nor of you either. That’s reserved for the priests and the good people, which you and I are not, sister. Don’t you get it? Now go on. Get out of here. I have to go into town on business and I need to finish getting ready.” “Yes, Miss,” she said resignedly and backed out of the room. What a ninny, I thought. She sure had some growing up to do. I was making my way across town through the narrow streets and saw the crowds blocking the way. “Oh great,” I muttered to myself, “Now I’ll never get through and back home at a decent hour.” I inched closer to see what was going on. There was a man speaking to the crowd. It must be that man, Jesus, my girl told me about. All of a sudden, I was curious to know what could enthrall the crowd this way. They took no notice of me as I squeezed my way through them until I could hear what was being said. “… He who has ears to hear, let him be listening, and consider and perceive and comprehend by hearing. But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like little children sitting in the market places …” (Matthew 11:15,16 Amp.) As Jesus went on, I found myself transfixed, totally forgetting the purpose of my trip. He talked about how the unrepentant and hypocritical would be judged. He talked about many things. Some of the things He said I could not understand, but most of it made so much sense. More sense that I had ever heard before. I stood there for a long time with the others as He taught us many things. Then, He earnestly began to pray to God, thanking Him that His truth was revealed to the unlearned and unskilled, rather that to the wise. It was then that I began to see clearly what I was. Oh, the horrible things I had done over the years! They paraded before my eyes. My hardened heart had never recognized it as willful sin before. I had just been trying to survive. But, with the light of this Man, I could now plainly see that I had been so, so wrong. I was horrified and woefully ashamed. What if Jesus, Who I was convinced was the Son of God, should find out the horrible things I had done? Surely, He would strike me down as an example and proclaim me as the sinner I was. I began to panic and started to turn to make my way back through the crowd for fear He would notice me. Sure enough that was when He looked towards me. Stopped in my tracks, I stared at Him. This was surely my doom, I thought, and deservedly so. His eyes held mine and I knew He could see everything from the very beginning of my life to whatever the end would be. Nothing was hidden from Him. Then an amazing thing happened. He did not point His finger at me and cry, “Sinner!” or “Unclean!” Instead, I saw love in His eyes and compassion. I knew instantly that not only was He willing, but He was the only One Who could free me from my sin. He went on speaking, leaning forward and stretching out His hands in His appeal to us. I could not tear my eyes away from Him. I was faintly aware that the tears had begun to flow. “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and over burdened, and I will cause you to rest - I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest – relief, ease and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet – for your souls. For My yoke is wholesome, useful, good – not harsh, hard, sharp or pressing, but comfortable, gracious and pleasant and My burden is light and easy to be borne.” (Matthew 11:28-30, Amp.) Could it be true? The amazing burden I had carried for so long, could I finally release it? What had He said? “Come to Me …” “Yes, yes,” my heart cried, “I will come to You, most Holy Jesus. Forgive this horrible sin which has been my whole life. I now give my life to You.” My hands reached out toward Him, but soon I was swallowed up in the crowd and could not get near Him. When the crowd parted, He was gone. When I got home, I saw the girl who had first told me about Him. I called to her and said, “I have seen this Jesus Who you told me about and you were right. He is different. I wanted to hear more, but He disappeared before I could see where He went.” She looked surprised to hear that I had been there, but told me that she also had been in the crowd of people. She had heard Simon, the Pharisee, ask Him to dine with him at his house that day. I went up to her and gave her a grateful hug and kiss. “Oh thank you for telling me.” The girl looked at me as if I had gone mad. And surely if this was madness, it was a glorious thing. I was seeing the same things, but from a different viewpoint – like when you get really up close to something. Practically walking on air, I went to my cabinet and pulled out my alabaster jar of perfume and said, “I must go to Simon’s house and see Jesus.” “You have gone mad. You can’t go to a Pharisee’s house,” she said, and then looking frightened to go on but saying it anyway in a lowered voice, “You are a prostitute.” I took a deep breath and calmly told her, “I was a prostitute. Now I am a follower of Jesus. This alabaster jar of perfume is the most valuable thing I own. Not only because it is costly, but because my father gave it to me. You were in the crowd. You heard Him. Try to understand what happened today. He saw right through me, saw everything about me and you know what? He still loved me and had compassion on me. That is why I love Him and want to give Him the best that I have.” “Then go and be careful,” she said softly and left the room. That is how I came to be walking anxiously down a narrow street with an alabaster jar hidden under my cloak. I had to see Jesus, my Savior! As I approached the Pharisee’s house, the crowd thickened. Many must have heard that Jesus was going to be there. It seemed right to me that the Pharisee should seek counsel with Jesus. He would learn some valuable lessons from Him. I thought about waiting outside for Him, but was afraid that I would lose Him in the crowd. I knew I could get into serious trouble, but I slipped inside the house anyway. I moved slowly along the wall, keeping behind the many people already inside as much as possible. It was not unusual for so many to be present at a special dinner even though they were not invited. The doors were kept open for these events and it was common to have beggars and onlookers in attendance. However, a harlot might not be as welcome; especially in the house of a Pharisee. But, my determination drove me on. My plan was to simply hear more of Jesus’ teachings, give Him the alabaster jar when He had finished dining and seek His direction for my life. I found a spot against the far wall where there were enough people milling about so that I was partially hidden from view, yet still able to see the table in the center of the room. I tried to control my breathing. My heart was racing furiously. I hadn’t realized how nervous I had become sneaking into the house. I saw Jesus and my heart was uplifted and filled with joy. He was reclining with His back toward me. The servants were busying themselves laying out the table for the meal. It was a low, oblong affair where the diners could recline while they ate. Some of the Pharisee’s invited guests were still arriving. The servants, as was customary, took their sandals and washed their feet at the door. The Pharisee gave each one a friendly kiss. Then they were shown to their place at the table. I strained to hear what was being said. How I wanted to hear more of His counsel. Love for Jesus washed over me. But still, something wasn’t quite right. Wait a minute. The servants had not washed Jesus’ feet. I could see that they were still dirty from His trip. It must be an oversight and boy oh boy, would those servants be in trouble. Surely the Pharisee wouldn’t stand for his guest to be insulted like that, especially not Jesus. I’d sure hate to be one of those servants when Simon took notice of this oversight! I looked at the Pharisee and saw the sneer on his face and the knowing glances he gave to his friends. Suddenly, everything became clear. It was on purpose! Simon had no intention of honoring Jesus. The whole dinner was intended to be a mockery and a trap. I was outraged! I wanted to wipe the smirk off that Pharisee’s face with a good backhand to his mouth. Who did he think he was anyway? How dare he treat the Son of God this way? I tried to remain still but could stand it no longer. I moved to the front of the crowd. Two guards moved toward me, but Simon, giving me a condescending look, waved at them to be still. I looked upon the Lord and was filled with a love that I had never before known. Tears of gratitude began to fall. I knelt down at Jesus’ feet which were stretched out before me and broke the neck of the alabaster jar. I reached up and took the clip from my hair and shook it loose. In the back of my mind, I knew I could be stoned for doing such a thing, but I had a singleness of purpose and I did not care what became of me. Jesus must be shown due respect. I would not allow His feet to remain unwashed. Not after what He had done for me. I poured the perfume out on His feet. It mixed with the tears that were now flowing freely; tears that had been pent up for far too long. The exquisite aroma of the perfume enveloped me. I used my hair to wipe the dust of the road off His feet and kissed them tenderly. I was overwhelmed with love for Him and only wanted to serve Him forever. I glanced up once and saw the arrogant look on the Pharisee’s face as if I had no right to do what I was doing. As I continued to kiss and wash His feet with the perfume and my tears, Jesus began to speak to the Pharisee. “Simon, I have something to say to you.” The Pharisee, waving his hand flippantly said, “Teacher, say it.” Jesus went on. “A certain lender of money at interest had two debtors; one owed him five hundred denarii and the other fifty. When they had no means of paying, he freely forgave them both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I take it, for whom he forgave and canceled more.” Jesus said to him, “You have decided correctly.” Then, Jesus turned toward me with such a tender look, I thought surely my heart would melt. He said to the Pharisee, “Do you see this woman? When I came into your house, you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss, but she from the moment I came in has not ceased to kiss My feet tenderly and caressingly. You did not anoint My head with cheap ordinary oil, but she has anointed My feet with costly, rare perfume. Therefore I tell you, her sins, many as they are, are forgiven her, because she has loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Then He said directly to me, “Your sins are forgiven!” Never had I heard such sweet words. But the people at the table began to murmur among themselves, “Who is this, Who even forgives sins?” Jesus continued to speak to me. He said, “Your faith has saved you; go, enter into peace – in freedom from all the distresses that are experienced as the result of sin.” (Conversation taken from Luke 7:40-50, Amp.) And you know what? I did!!!