A group of men is sitting around a table, talking and eating. These are all church leaders and such, men known for following God. Suddenly someone comes in who was not invited. A woman.
Conversation stops. The men all watch her as she comes in. The woman’s eyes are focused on one man. She crosses over to him and sits down by his feet. Her eyes well up with tears and she begins to sob. She has been clutching something in her hands, and now she reveals a small bottle.
A collective gasp rises around the room. The bottle is made of beautifully cut alabaster stone and is full of perfume, worth thousands of dollars. Still shaking with sobs, the woman gently wipes the dust off of it and twists the entire top off. A thick fragrance fills the room, like an entire greenhouse of flowers.
The woman holds the bottle over the man’s feet and begins to pour. A thin stream of amber-colored liquid pours out from the bottle’s neck. She keeps pouring, pouring. The bottle is almost half empty. Still she pours. The man’s feet are now covered in this sweet expensive perfume. The bottle is three quarters empty. And still the woman pours. She seems determined to hold nothing back.
Only a tiny bit is left in the bottle now. The stream runs thinner and become a trickle. The woman tips the bottle further trying to let the last few drops escape. Finally one last drop of perfume is clinging onto the lip of the bottle. The woman gives one small shake, the drop falls, and the woman sits back, her tears subsiding and her bottle empty.
Some of the people there became angry and said to one another, "What was the use of wasting the perfume? It could have been sold for more than three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor!" And they criticized her harshly. But Jesus said, "Leave her alone! Why are you bothering her? She has done a fine and beautiful thing for me.
This story, or one very much like it, appears in all four gospels in the New Testament. It has recently become a favorite of mine because of this idea of the pouring. This perfume was very expensive, worth almost a year’s wages. It was the most expensive thing she owned, and was probably supposed to be her dowry for when she got married, or her security fund in case she ever needed money. She had probably been saving it for years for just such a reason. Can you imagine owning a perfume that cost a year’s worth of paychecks? Can you imagine wasting it all in the space of a few seconds?
Yes, I said waste. It was a good kind of waste, but it was still a waste. The disciples called it a waste and thought she should have found a much more practical use for it. But Jesus understood and he loved what the woman had done.
It took courage to come into that room. The table was full of respected church leaders, very proper and formal and often judgmental. The woman in Luke (which is probably a different woman than the one in the other three gosepls) had a reputation as a sinner (Luke 7:37), possibly a prostitute or adulteress. She was not welcome in that house by any conventional standard.
But she came anyway, carrying with her her most valuable possession. And then she did the unthinkable. In the space of a few seconds, she poured out all of that expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet. On his feet! She knelt down on the ground and, with tears streaming down her face, anointed his feet with her perfume and dried it with her hair. This is the most humbling thing she could have done. She sacrificed not only her financial security, but all of her pride. In that moment, it didn’t matter to her that she was making a fool of herself. It didn’t matter that the men wrinkled their noses in distaste at her arrival and then gaped disapprovingly at the waste of the perfume. She simply didn’t care. She wasn’t there for them.
She had spent everything she had to worship Jesus. Certainly, serving others is a way to worship Jesus, but in this case she wasn’t serving anyone but him. She poured out everything – her hopes, her fears, her pride – and spilled it all in worship at Jesus’ feet. Drop by drop, the perfume flowed from the bottle. Drop by drop, she emptied herself. She wasn’t interested in holding anything back. She was there for one purpose only – to express her love for the Man whom she knew loved her like no other.
Once the men got over the shock of what she was doing, they began arguing about the actual waste of the perfume. “That money should be given to the poor!” they said. “That’s how you show love for God! You’ve got to do something!”
But Jesus knew otherwise. He understood her heart full of love. He was deeply touched by her display of affection. He recognized the sacrifices she had made, and he loved them. The waste of that perfume meant far more to him than any charitable donation. It was an act of pure love.
There was another woman who sat at Jesus feet at another dinner party. While her sister was hurrying to accomplish things, work she could do, Mary chose instead to sit at Jesus’ feet. She wasted her time just to be with Jesus. And Jesus honored her for it. (Luke 10:38-42)
I want my life to reflect that kind of love. I want to waste my life in ways that the world can never understand. I want to spend every waking moment pouring out my love to Jesus. Pouring, pouring, pouring, all of what I have, all of who I am, all of who I will be. My plans, my dreams, my talents, my relationships. My very soul.
In every way possible I want to show my love for him. If that means I spend hours dancing or singing or writing or simply laying on the ground, I will do it gladly. That is my alabaster box, and that is my costly perfume.
He poured out his life for me. The least I can do is pour out all of myself, waste my life in love.
Glorious, lavish waste.
My life is like a drink offering being poured out on the altar.
2 Timothy 4:6b
These are the two songs that have really inspired some of these thoughts.
You can read this story in Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, John 12:1-8, and a very similar story in Luke 7:36-50.