An Alabaster Jar


Magdalene with the Jar of Ointment - Guido Reni

Guido Reni

Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat. But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. 10 When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. 11 For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. 12 For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. 13 Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her. Matthew 26 

In John 12, the lady who anoints Jesus’s feet with costly ointment is Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus. In tradition ( the folk kind, not the Magisterium kind), this lady is associated with Mary Magdalene, who is also, despite all the evidence, also associated with the woman caught in adultery. Add this to the fabled red hair of the Magdalene, some fairytales about her marriage to Jesus Christ, and the odd voyage to Marseille or Glastonbury and you get the composite fallen woman of the Western imagination – shamed and alluring, penitent and slightly magical, all at the same time.

We live in strange times. Very, very few women these days are considered ‘fallen’, in the way that women were until relatively recently. Yet Pharisees and hypocrites are only too eager to jump on others for perceived ‘sins’, to to use said ‘sins’ to justify their own views or actions. But, of course, when the woman taken in adultery was brought before Christ, we are told that He said: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” I am confused about people’s behaviour these days. I thought the only sin was getting caught.

We remember the woman with the alabaster jar because she did something out of reverence, was attacked for it, and was defended by Jesus for her faith.  As Christ said: “Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.”

And He was right. Well, He would be, wouldn’t He? And you know who was in charge of the money-box, as well, don’t you?

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