The woman with the alabaster box in the Bible is the subject of a plethora of gospel songs, sermons, and movies. It is one of the most detailed stories of the Scriptures, ladened with drama and emotion.
Indeed, it is also one of the most encouraging and inspiring events in the Bible. Jesus showed up for this woman who had been so battered and broken by life. What spiritual and practical lessons can we learn from this woman with the alabaster jar?
The Alabaster Jar Scripture
There are about four accounts in the Bible about the woman with the alabaster box.
One of them is recorded in three of the four Gospels: Matthew 16, Mark 14, and John 12.
The other is recorded by a Bible writer who did not witness the event himself but reconstructed the story based on interviews with eye-witnesses. This account is in Luke 7:34-50.
Who was the woman in Luke 7:36-50
There is still a fierce debate about the identity of the unnamed woman with the alabaster jar in the Luke account.
Some scholarships believe that all four stories are the same but with different details.
Is Mary Magdalene the woman with the alabaster jar?
This question tends to be the most popular about the story. We all want to know for sure who this woman was.
The truth is that we will never know for sure until eternity rolls in. This post is not intended for a debate.
We’re just trying to get some solid lessons to grow our spiritual and practical lives. We’re trying to focus on Jesus here.
But here are a few places to look to get an understanding of the debate about the story of the woman with the Alabaster box.
That said, I have used the Luke account for this post.
What is the story of the woman with the alabaster jar?
In the story, according to Luke, Jesus received an invitation to dinner from a Pharisee named Simon.
While Jesus is positioned to eat, a well-known woman, assumed to be a prostitute in the area, walks through the crowd. Kneeling at his feet, she removed a tiny alabaster jar from around her neck and broke it.
The scent of the perfume filled the air as she poured it on Jesus’s feet. While she poured, the oil was mixed with the flood of tears falling from her eyes.
She tenderly kissed Jesus’s feet again and again and again. She removed the covering from her hair and used her hair to wipe Jesus’s feet.
Everyone was aghast. At the same time, Simon had a mental battle. He was convinced that Jesus could not have known who this woman really was or He would not allow her to touch him.
Unknown to Simon was that Jesus could read his mind. Using a parable, Jesus gently told Simon that this woman’s actions were more acceptable than his dinner invitation and the way He (Jesus was treated).
In fact, having experienced repentance and forgiveness, she was in a better position than he.
Thereafter, Jesus told her that her sins were forgiven, that her faith had saved her and she was free to go in peace.
Before we get into the story, let’s pause a bit and look at the significance of the alabaster box.
What is an alabaster box?
Alabaster is a soft, white or translucent mineral or stone found in the Middle East, more specifically in Egypt. Because it was so easy to carve and polish, it was used to make jars.
It was easy to smell the perfume through the jars because the material was quite porous. The jar also helped to preserve the perfume. Shaped like an elongated vase with a long neck, the jar had no handles and the opening was sealed.
Alabaster jars were extremely expensive. You would have to work a whole year to have enough money to buy one with perfume.
All Jewish women wore a tiny alabaster jar around the neck. They used the perfume to refresh their breath and body if odors became bad. They would put the oil on their tongue, skin, and clothing.
These tiny bottles contained about half a pint of oil. The jar was broken at the neck so once a jar was opened, the whole thing had to be used.
Also, perfume was priceless. They were made from the juice of various plants.
The cost of alabaster today
As I said before, this story is not the only account in which Jesus was anointed by a woman with oil from an alabaster jar.
In other accounts, one of the complaints of those in the room was that the contents of the alabaster jar was way too expensive to have been wasted on Jesus in such a manner.
So then, exactly how much would the alabaster jar of perfume worth today?
Back then, Mary would have paid about 300 denarii. A whole year’s wage! In the US today, that might be anywhere between $20,000 to $40,000, depending on whose calculation you use.
Lessons from the alabaster box story in the Bible
Now that we have a little background to some details int he story, what can we learn from the learn from the story of the woman with alabaster box?
Let’s dig in!
Lessons #1 – Jesus specializes in the worst people in society
When we are introduced to this woman, she is called a sinner. This was quite a heavy word to describe someone back then.
This term was one of disdain used to describe people who were not followers of the Pharisaic laws. The Pharisees had various categories of sinners.
Being a prostitute qualified her for the lowest category. In their eyes, she was scraping the bottom of the barrel.
But you see, these are exactly the kind of people that Jesus loves to hang out with.
In the eyes of the Pharisees, Jesus was unclean because this woman touched him.
They didn’t realize that she was exactly the kind of person He came to set free.
Which takes me to my next point.
Lessons #2 – There is nothing you can do to make God so ashamed of you that He would reject you.
This woman, a prostitute, was considered the scum of the earth. She was an outcast who was beyond being saved, like the in the story of the Prodigal Son.
She was living a life of hopelessness. Maybe she thought God could never forgive her for all she had done so there was no reason to change.
But, here is what she learned when she met Jesus: God does not hold your past against you, no matter how terrible it is.
Moses murdered a man but God used him to lead 2 million people to the land of promise.
David raped Bathsheba and then murdered her husband but he was the point of reference for holiness for every king after him.
Paul murdered Christians but he wrote most of the books in our New Testament.
When God forgives our past, he does not go back. He puts your past in the depth of the ocean (Micah 7:19) and puts up a sign that says NO FISHING. Stop fishing in the ocean of your past.
What are you struggling with?
Abortion? Unforgiveness towards an abuser? Fornication? Adultery? Drug abuse and addiction? Alcoholism? Pornography? Overeating? Anger? Jealousy? Pride?
None of this disqualifies you in God’s eyes.
Jesus sees you and he isn’t turned off.
He’s drawn to you.
He’s near to you even now.
GET MORE INSPIRATION: The story of Rahab in the Bible: Lessons from the Harlot turned heroine
Lessons #3 – God sees our hearts the way nobody else sees it
Everyone at this party was frozen at this strange scene of this woman crying over and kissing Jesus’s feet and using her uncovered hair as a towel (more on this later).
People were not sure what to make of it. But Jesus understood.
When Simon judged Jesus for allowing the sinful woman to touch him, he didn’t realize that Jesus could discern his thoughts.
And this is why the parable of the two debtors was directly addressed to Simon and not to anyone else in the room.
When Jesus asked, “Do you see this woman?”, this question was more than what meets the eye.
Jesus was talking about more than just physically perceiving with the eyes. He was talking about discerning her heart.
Jesus could explain her actions because he knew exactly what was going on in her heart.
God sees you. Not the well made-up, well-manicured, well-dressed, well-spoken version of you.
The real you. The part of you that you are afraid to reveal to anyone. You are naked before God no matter how much you hide (Read Psalm 139:7-10).
God is the one being in the universe you don’t have to explain yourself to. He sees the good, the bad, and the ugly.
He not only sees your mistakes but he also sees the part of your heart that is broken and desperately wants to be healed.
He invites us to talk with him about our past and our future.
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. Isaiah 1:18
Lessons #4 – Don’t allow anyone or anything to distract or disturb your worship
It took a lot of courage for this woman to go to that dinner in the home of a Pharisee. Everybody there knew who she was and what she did. Everybody knew about her shameful, dirty life.
But she didn’t care.
You see, for the first time in her life, a man looked at her and didn’t see an object for sexual gratification.
For the first time a man didn’t want anything from her. In fact, for the first time, a man wanted to give her something and that something was more than money could buy.
This woman was overcome with love for Jesus because of how much forgiveness she had received. The people could not understand her worship.
They only knew what they saw but they didn’t really know her story. But she was not about to let that stop her from worshipping with her whole heart.
This was an extremely emotional experience. She wasn’t just sobbing quietly. She was crying loudly. Wailing. The ugly kind as if mourning the sudden loss of a very close relative. Everyone heard. She could not be ignored.
Not just that.
When Scripture says she wet his feet with her tears, the word wet translates to rain. She was crying so much it was as if rain was falling from her eyes.
Her worship was real and raw. She regarded nobody else in the room. Only Jesus existed in those moments.
It might be hard to go back to that church where everyone knows your story but don’t let that stop you from being in a place of worship.
Go and sit up front and worship like you have never worshipped before. Only Jesus matters.
Lessons #5 – God doesn’t care what people think about you and neither should you
To have her hair uncovered and let down was immodest and almost illegal.
Married women who didn’t wear their hair up and covered in public risked being divorced by their husbands if they did this.
The rule was that only her husband should see a woman with hair out and uncovered. A married woman would be accused of shameful and lose behavior.
So, imagine what the crowd thought about her as she used her uncovered hair to wipe another man’s feet!
Then add that to the fact that everyone knew she was a prostitute and the place she occupied in society.
There was hardly a mind in that room with positive thoughts.
But none of that concerned her. And Jesus was definitely undisturbed by it.
Notice how Jesus defended her against the pious perspective of Simon.
Jesus was overjoyed at her decision to accept forgiveness and start over.
Which takes me to my next point…
Lessons #6 – When God gives a new start, you need faith to live it
It seems evident that the woman encountered Jesus before and had already received the word of relief and release.
Her appearance at the party was her way of pouring out her heart to Jesus in gratitude.
She had already been forgiven. But since they were in public, Jesus wanted everyone to know what had transpired.
Jesus said to her “Your sins are forgiven”.
And then He added, “Your faith has saved you….”
By faith, the woman believed she was forgiven. Her faith saved her. The Word for save is two fold.
Jesus communicated two truths in that one statement.
First, He told her that she was healed and restored to health both emotionally and spiritually.
Second, He told her that her soul was saved. She received salvation the moment she accepted Jesus’ forgiveness by faith.
There are many people who still live in guilt and shame although God has long since forgiven them.
Some people will say they don’t feel forgiven. That’s real. But that’s where faith comes in.
Your feelings are the devil’s playground. He will lie to you through your emotions.
He will even keep the memories of your sin before you. Remembering them does not mean you have not been forgiven. If you truly repented and were truly sorry, you have been forgiven.
So set yourself free!
You have to speak truth to yourself and repeat it until it takes root.
Here is one Bible truth to start with:
If your heart condemns you, God is greater than your heart and he knows all things. 1 John 3:20
God is not in that place of being guilt ridden with you. By faith, take hold of God’s forgiveness and ditch your feelings.
Know this truth and let it set you free.
It’s not easy to forget the past. But by faith, you must know that God does not see you through those eyes anymore.
GET MORE ENCOURAGEMENT: What to do when God gives you a new beginning
Lessons #7 – When you accept Jesus’s love and forgiveness, there is peace
The final thing Jesus said to the woman was “go in peace”. This statement was a command. And a very loaded one.
Wishing someone peace was a common Jewish farewell. But Jesus was more than telling her goodbye and wishing her well.
The Greek word Jesus used was eirene. This word means peace but not in a regular sense.
Let me explain.
Jesus wasn’t just talking about the absence of war, strife and contention.
Eirene literally means to put back together something that had been broken or torn apart.
Today, when someone is having an emotional breakdown and falling apart in public, we tell them, “pull yourself together”.
Or, we describe people who always seem flawless and calm as “having it all together”.
When Jesus told her to “go in peace”, he was commanding her to make sure that as she moved on with her life by faith, she was not to behave as though her life was in shambles or as though her relationship with God was broken.
The forgiveness she received by faith from Jesus reconciled her to God. She was now a daughter of the God of the universe. She always was. But now, now, she knew it and she had all the rights to walk confidently in that truth.
She was now complete in Christ. She was free to live abundantly.
Eirene also means utter and complete and total well-being. And this is what Jesus envisioned for her.
When you repent and accept Jesus’s forgiveness, your life is no longer a mess or a hot mess. Your life is holy.
You have peace with God. By faith, each day, you pull things together a little bit more.
Bit by bit, you’ll have it all together. Even if you never feel like you do, Jesus already did it for you.
Alabaster box spiritual meaning
The alabaster jar and its contents were extremely expensive. But this was all this woman had. This was all she had to offer Jesus.
Her heart was so filled with gratitude that nothing else could possibly do to express how she felt.
Ever been so grateful that you were beside yourself with emotion?
This alabaster box was her praise, as so aptly expressed by Cece Winans. And according to Steve Green, this box and its contents represented her deep, forever love for Jesus. These songs are beautiful. Check them out.
What is your alabaster box?
Bible stories are no good if we never apply them to our lives. This unnamed Bible character showed her love, praise and gratitude to Jesus by pour the contents of her alabaster box all over his feet.
How will you demonstrate your love and gratitude to Jesus? Do you feel the blessing of his forgiveness and restoration on your life?
I thin Jesus wants more than anything else for you to pay it forward by helping others to realize who He is. Along with giving Jesus your life, you can introduce to someone else to Him so they can experience the freedom you have been enjoying.
Mentor a young man or woman. Volunteer to work with people who suffer. Raise money to help a cause.
Put an item in your budget to contribute to clothing and feeding someone. Maybe you have a business from which you can give away free goods and services.
Whatever your alabaster box is, I hope it comes pouring from your heart.
Final words on the woman with the alabaster box
Wow! As I researched and wrote this post my own heart was so blessed!
I hope you received some encouragement and inspiration from this study.
As you live by faith, remember that nothing can separate you from the love of God. NOTHING!