What aroma can I leave around me?

alabaster jar

Sometimes when reading the Bible we miss out on taking in the fullness of the passage by failing to consider the impact of the passage on our physical senses.

For example, Mark records the story of Jesus eating dinner at the home of Simon the Leper two days before Passover.  With your imagination, breathe in the smells that would have filled the home that day.  There was the smell of freshly baked bread—freshly baked unleavened bread, for this was just a couple of days before Passover.  There was the aroma of wine.  There were the smells of dates and figs and fresh grapes and cooked onions and Jerusalem cheese and pickled herrings and honey pie.  There may also have been the smell of barbecued lamb or goat.  Suddenly, into the room a new smell was introduced.  A woman brought in an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume.  She broke it open and poured the perfume on the head of Jesus.

Jackie Kendall speculates, “In the days of Jesus, when a young woman reached the age of availability for marriage, her family would purchase an alabaster box for her and fill it with precious ointment.  The size of the box and the value of the ointment would parallel her family’s wealth.  This alabaster box would be part of her dowry.  When the young man came to ask for her in marriage, she would respond by taking the alabaster box and breaking it at his feet.  The gesture of anointing his feet showed him honor.” (Say Goodbye to Shame: And 77 Other Stories of Hope and Encouragement, p. 156)

Though Kendall’s writing is speculative, the alabaster jar was surely a treasured possession to this woman, possibly even a family heirloom.  To break it open and empty its contents on the head of Jesus was a loving act, a generous gift, a costly personal sacrifice.  As she filled the room with the wonderful fragrance of expensive perfume, she also filled the room with the wonderful fragrance of love and generosity and devotion.

Then, just as suddenly, the room became filled with a stench—the stench of indignation and judgmentalness: “Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, ‘Why this waste of perfume?  It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.’  And they rebuked her harshly” (Mark 14:4-5).

I have experience that stench in my own life.  I have experienced the stench that fills my soul when it is consumed with judgment against others.  And I have experienced the stench of shame and embarrassment and bitterness when others have judged me.

Jesus did not judge this woman, though.  He said, “Leave her alone…. Why are you bothering her?  She has done a beautiful thing to me.  The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want.  But you will not always have me.  She did what she could.  She poured perfume on my body for my burial.  I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Rather than judging her waste of money or her failure to have sold the perfume and given the proceeds to a worthy cause, Jesus looked at the good intent of her heart, and he complimented her.

As I read this story, I am struck by the realization that every day (and every moment) I have a choice (an opportunity): I can leave around me the fragrance of love and generosity and devotion, or I can leave around me the stench of judgmentalness.

Victor Hugo once remarked, “The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved.”  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could leave that fragrance in the souls of people we encounter each day: the conviction that they are loved!

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