There is no right or wrong way to study the Bible; yet following a pattern can help us find gold in the stories. Finding these treasures will help us apply truth to our own lives. An omer was a biblical unit of measure for dry grain. During their wilderness travels, an omer of manna was God’s provision for each person each day.
The Background of this story
To understand what is happening in this story, you have to know the culture and the circumstances. You have to know the background .There are a lot of back stories. If you take the time to learn the back stories, the Bible will come alive for you. Things will click and make sense. When you read something you don’t understand, research it instead of just moving on. It makes a difference – I promise!
- Travel. Dusty roads with sandals on feet. A good host provided water for his guests and a servant to wash those dusty feet.
- Oil. Hosts provided oil for wounds or sores on feet and heads from traveling by foot.
- The host. A good host provided water, oil, and a kiss for his guest.
- Alabaster boxes. Alabaster was a hard stone resembling white marble commonly found in Israel. It is referred to as one of the precious stones [onyx, marble] used in the decoration of Solomon’s Temple. Ointment, oils, and perfumes were put in alabaster vessels, keeping them pure and unspoiled. Sealed or made fast with wax, the perfume was prevented from escaping.
What happens in the story
In this story, Jesus is invited to be a guest in the home of Simon, a Pharisee. During the course of the meal, a woman with a poor reputation enters the house with an alabaster box of perfume, breaks it open, stoops down, kisses the feet of Jesus, anoints them with oil, and wipes His feet with her hair.
This scene makes me feel uncomfortable because that’s not the way I show love. A woman wiping a man’s feet with her hair, kissing those feet, and pouring oil on them can appear to be something sensual. And this woman had a reputation, the likes of which none of us should want to have.
Simon, the host, is probably thinking the same things you and I would be thinking. Jesus knows the background of this woman, and He knows her heart. He declares to her that her sins are forgiven. He tells her to go in peace.
Simon has a problem with this woman, her reputation, and her intimate association with Jesus. He voices his thoughts, no doubt because he feels others will agree with him. He declares that if Jesus were a prophet, He would surely know what type of woman this is.
A story within a story
Jesus responds with a story. It’s a story about two people who owe money; one owes a small amount and the other owes a lot. The moneylender forgives the debt of both men. “Which one loves the moneylender the most?”, Jesus asks. Certainly, the one who has been forgiven the larger debt.
This, says Jesus, is just like the woman. She has been forgiven much; therefore, she loves much.
Jesus reprimands Simon. “You didn’t wash my feet, provide oil, or even kiss me as a host customarily does. Yet this woman has not ceased to anoint my feet with oil, to kiss me and to wash my feet since she arrived. She has done all the things you should have done, Simon. She is showing me her love.”
You can read the story here.
Here is the homework. 🙂
Lessons on alabaster living from this story
What is the Setting? Jesus is with His disciples when a woman or a poor reputation arrives.
Who is Speaking? Jesus speaks to Simon, the host; He speaks to the sinful woman.
What Vessel is used in this story? A box of alabaster – filled with perfume.
What Action is to be taken about the “wasted” perfume? Nothing.
What is the Result? (Did the woman have Jesus’ approval?) Jesus chastises Simon and blesses the woman.
What is the Omer of His goodness in this story? Jesus accepts the repentance of this sinful woman; He acknowledges her sin and forgives her. In the same way, He appreciates the gifts of love we give to Him – especially when it truly costs us. For this woman to break the box, the oil would not stay contained. She was willing to use it all on the Master because He had done so much for her.
Being honest about your alabaster vessel
Journal: How does this story remind you of times God has been ‘enough’ for you and you felt beloved? Is God using you as a vessel in Kingdom work or are you hoarding the best for yourself? Do the gifts I bring to Him really cost me something or do I bring him my second-best leftovers?