The alabaster jar hung around her neck like a trophy for all to see. And well they should because it costs nearly a year’s income. Perhaps she used it to gain some of the respect she had lost from the townspeople. She had a reputation – and it wasn’t good. Perhaps the alabaster jar – and the sweet aromatic oil it contained – was like a shield to keep the hurtful barbs at bay. Nevertheless, today would be different. Today the alabaster jar would be broken…
This is how I imagine the situation leading up to the story I will look at today – a story of brokenness, love and forgiveness.
One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered 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 from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:36-50, ESV)
This woman loved much because she knew she had been forgiven much. The only way to pour the oil out of the alabaster jar was to break its narrow neck. It could not be reused. Yet her love for Jesus was so great that she would risk further alienation, further disdain and the cost of that oil. Nothing counted more to her that day than expressing her love for Jesus and she would spare no expense.
Contrast that to the attitude expressed by Simon, Jesus’ host for the supper. Not only did he feel himself superior to THAT woman, but clearly he sat in judgment over Christ Himself. “This man is no prophet!” he reasoned in his heart. He was evaluating and judging Jesus against his own (Simon’s) expectations and values. The woman was nothing, Jesus was a fraud, therefore Simon was self-justified. He loved little and showed little love, even little common courtesy, for his guest. He knew nothing of forgiveness, either giving it or receiving it. He likely didn’t feel he needed much, if any, forgiveness. He loved little.
The parable Jesus tells Simon beautifully illustrates grace. In the story one debtor owed ~$3000, the other ~$30,000 in current currency. Neither of them could pay – both were bankrupt. Isn’t that the condition we are all in? We are all sinners. We all are in debt. It doesn’t matter what we think of our own status or how good we think we are, we must admit that we can never repay God. And yet the creditor (The Father) forgives both – it is grace alone. Neither one of them earned forgiveness. What Jesus emphasizes here is the heart response to God’s offer of grace and forgiveness – it is about the relationship established, not the performance of a good life.
For me the most breathtaking part of this story is the words Jesus speaks to the woman, “Go in peace.” Think of it. It is possible to be at peace, to look deeply into our hearts and spirits and know the calmness, serenity and peace – spiritual, emotional, mental, physical – that comes from knowing the forgiveness that Christ offers.
We love because He first loved us. The woman understood just how much she had been forgiven and as a result loved much. But Simon who was self-justified and self-righteous loved little because he did not understand the extent of his own sin and need for forgiveness. The question we must ask ourselves is – Do I love little or do I love much? Have I truly grasped the fullness of my brokenness and sin and the extent of his forgiveness towards me? Am I willing to break the alabaster jar of my life – to withhold nothing from Him – to express the greatness of my love towards Him because of the greatness of His love towards me?