alabaster jars of joy

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Gospels / Jesus / Lectionary / New Testament / Year C

The following is a reflection on Luke 7:36-8:3, the Gospel lesson appointed for Proper 6C according to the Revised Common Lectionary.

And a woman in the city, who was a sinner…brought an alabaster jar of ointment.

Oh, she was a sinner, was she? Like a sinner, sinner, or a SINNER, SINNER?

And, what would that even mean?

In Luke 1:3 we find that he writes his Gospel to a person named “Theophilus.” Could be a person. Perhaps a parishioner in Luke’s church?

Or…Luke could have something a little more enigmatic in mind. Theophilus, you see, means “lover of God.”

Aren’t we all supposed to be lovers of God?

Personally, I subscribe to the notion that Luke wrote this gospel for us, the God-lovers, and thereby writing us into it. Because it’s Good News for us.

I also think that Luke wrote us into this story too, the story of the woman with the alabaster jar. The sinner.

Not a “tax collector,” or an “adulteress,” or even as if often suggested a “prostitute.” But, rather, she’s “a sinner.”

Just like me. And just like you.

So, why would Luke be making this connection? Why even bring her up at all? Because of what she does. Her incredible act of devotion—worship.

She stands behind him. She weeps. And then she washes his feet with her tears. Dries his feet with her hair. She then kisses his feet, and anoints him with her ointment.

What’s going on here? The clues are few. But, I think what we witness in this text—what Luke wants us to see—is what joy looks like. Pure, unbounded, unbridled joy in the face of mercy and grace. Joy in the Presence of Jesus.

Grace is getting something wonderful that you don’t deserve. Mercy is not getting something terrible that you do deserve.

As a sinner, she didn’t deserve, or earn, anything good. And perhaps she even deserved something terrible as a punishment.

But, what did she get? Forgiveness. What didn’t she get? Condemnation.

I think she knew that before Jesus even said a word. She came into his Presence, and she just knew. And, then she just couldn’t help herself. She couldn’t help but weep. She couldn’t help but wash and kiss and anoint.

And, that’s the point. Because we’re her, her actions are to be our actions. Coming into Jesus’ Presence—whether in church on Sunday morning, or any other time—is meant to bring us to such joy that we can’t even help ourselves.

Deeply embedded in the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola is the call to practice the awareness of God’s grace and love. We’re to remember that love and grace is always flowing from God to us.

That awareness, if we let it sink deep into our hearts, should bring us to tears. And joy. And make us break open our alabaster jars and start spreading the anointing around.

The Author

follower of Jesus, father of two, husband of one, Episcopal priest, with one book down, one blog up...surrounded by empty jars of nutella