Mary and the Alabaster Box

Mary and the alabaster box.

Her sins are forgiven for she loved much.

Some say that there are a couple of different eyewitness accounts of the event of “Mary and the alabaster box” in the Bible. We think that there may be four versions. The first account is by Matthew, the second by Mark and we believe the third and fourth accounts are given by Luke and John. Have a read and see what you think for yourself.

Dr James Tabor who is Professor of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina (Christian origins and ancient Judaism) has an interesting blog post on Mary for those who like to read a more in-depth study on the different versions.

What we know is, that when Jesus says that we’ll be remembering Mary, he isn’t talking about his mother. Jesus is talking about another woman called Mary and he says that “her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much.”

Mary and the alabaster box

We love the story about Mary and the alabaster box so much that we decided to do a song about it. Years ago when we started to read the Bible in earnest we were so excited to discover GOD’s rule book. As in, pfew … there are indeed standards in place that we are supposed to live up to as lovers of GOD’s Word. And we were no less excited to find that, hey, there is forgiveness if you do the best you can and yet occasionally muck up.

Mary and the alabaster box
lyrics from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John

She put the ointment of spikenard very costly.
She put it on his body for his burial.
Mary wrought a good work on Jesus.
Let her alone.
She done what she could.
Mary wrought a good work on him.
An alabaster box of very precious ointment.
She poured it on his head as he sat at meat.
She done what she could.
She wrought a good work on him.
Mary wrought a good work on Jesus.
Let her alone.
She done what she could.
Spikenard very costly.
With her hair she wiped his feet.
She did it for his burial.
It’ll be told for a memorial.

Matthew’s version

She hath wrought a good work upon me.

Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, there came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat. But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor.

When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial.

Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.

Mark’s version

Let her alone; why trouble ye her?

She hath done what she could.

And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head. And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor. And they murmured against her.

And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always. She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.

Luke’s version

Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much

Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.

And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat. And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.

Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on.

There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.

And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.

Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.

Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.

And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also?

And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.

John’s version

Mary anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair.

The poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.

Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.)

Then Jesus six days before the Passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him.

Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.
Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him, Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein.
Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this.
For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.

Jesus reiterated what the prophet Ezekiel told us centuries ago.

All of Scripture tells us about GOD’s grace and his forgiveness and long-suffering nature. On the Sabbath yesterday, we listened to another excellent Torah Pearl hosted by Jono from TRUTH2U Radio with guests Keith Johnson and Nehemia Gordon. And one of the references which was mentioned with regards to God’s forgiveness is in Ezekiel where we are told that what counts is the actions we take today. What matters is not where we were or what we did in the past. What matters to the Creator of Heaven and Earth is who we are today. And the actions we take this very day is what determines our destiny.

Jesus prophesied that Mary’s actions would be remembered.

Jesus said, “this, that this woman hath done, shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.” If we assume that the four different versions mentioned above all relate to the same event, then Jesus spoke about Mary the sister of Lazarus when he said these words. Jesus did not say that we’ll be remembering and honouring his mother, who was also called Mary.

I want to make this distinction because I was raised a Catholic. As a Catholic I was taught to pray to Mary the mother of Jesus. This meant for me that I kneeled down in Catholic churches in front of mother Mary statues. As a child, on my way to school,  I would often walk into the church, light some candles in front of a mother Mary statue and kneel down on a pew before I’d say my ‘Hail Marys’. This is all right and proper according to the Catholic faith.

During my childhood after we’d been to ‘Confession’ we were told by the priest to say a certain amount of ‘Hail Marys’ and ‘Holy Fathers,’ in order for our  sins to be forgiven. The amount of these prayers depended on the multitude and size of our sins. I was educated by nuns. My sins were many, as you can imagine for any primary school aged kid, and therefore my affinity with Mary with the alabaster box great.

What did Jesus say about Mary?

What I am interested in today is not what the Catholic church says about who to remember and how but what God’s Word and particularly Jesus himself says about remembering Mary (and the alabaster box). Jesus does not tell us to kneel in front of a statue of his mum and pray to her. Jesus tells us that we’ll remember Mary the sinner, a woman who made mistakes, just like I did as a child and most of us still do a lot of the time.

The good part.

The great part about this event described in scripture is that Jesus tells us that Mary did a good work, that she did what she could and for the people around her to leave her alone and not criticise her actions. Mary is called a sinner which shows us that she mucked up and probably more than once. Yup, I can relate. And this Mary anointed Jesus ahead of his burial and kissed and washed His feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Jesus says, don’t trouble this woman, she has done a good work on me.

We’re told by Jesus that we’ll remember a Mary who made mistakes but also loved much and had faith. She simply did what she could. And we’re told that because of her good work, love and faith,  her sins were forgiven her and Jesus tells her to go in peace.

That means there is hope for all of us. And I reckon that is Good Nnews, if ever I heard any.

Song of Mary and the Alabaster Box – lyrics by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – Sung by babes and little children composed for people is grass – all rights reserved – copyright Elias label –
originally published 2 years ago and reprinted with permission.
 

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