Sunday, May 1, 2016

Your alabaster bottle

Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it. (Mark Twain)  Twain was absolutely right when he said the "crushing" is what releases the best fragrance of the flower, but I also think it just might release the richest of fragrance from the lives of those who learn to forgive even when pushed down, crushed under some weight another places upon them, or because of a weight they chose to bear themselves. Jesus came to the home of a wealthy man, invited to enjoy supper in his home.  He was surrounded by other "influential" people of the day, enjoying their meal and conversing about subjects the "commoners" just didn't engage in because they weren't as "educated" as these citizens. A woman enters - a woman known for her ill-reputed occupation in the city - carrying an alabaster bottle filled with fragrant perfume. She approaches Jesus, sits at his feet, then proceeds to empty that fragrant perfume all over his feet.  To top it off, she wipes his feet with her hair, kisses his feet, and weeps as that sweet fragrance fills the house.  She is chastised by the attendants of the feast and so is Jesus.  But why?  She has been "wasteful" in their eyes, but she has also just committed a huge injustice - she has made Jesus "unclean" by approaching him, touching him, and even worse, kissing him! Worse - Jesus has allowed the unclean woman to do these shameful things - something a staunch Pharisee could never allow, for they avoided even the appearance of such evil!

This woman has been forgiven much, and she is showing much love. But the person who has shown little love shows how little forgiveness he has received.  (Luke 7:47 VOICE)

Maybe we associate with the woman today - kind of alone in the world, knowing full-well our deeds have been less than stellar, and in so much pain we just look for someone to release us from that pain.  Perhaps our sin hasn't been one of living as a "lady of the night", but our shame over our sin is just as great, whatever it label that sin might bear.  We don't see ourselves as worthy of forgiveness, but we long for it nonetheless.  One might not know the specific moment forgiveness will come, but one thing is quite true - when it is realized, there is a sweetness to the fragrance it releases.  That fragrance isn't because Jesus touches us, but because when he releases the weight the burden of sin has placed upon us, the release from that crushing effect combined with his touch of loving grace releases the beautiful fragrance of grace's richness for all to experience!

To know release is to experience the fragrance of grace.  Sin crushes us under the weight of shame and self-doubt.  This woman surely knew she would be judged for her actions - abandoning the "norms" of societal rules in search of a release so great no sacrifice would be too great.  Her position describes just how she views herself.  She sits not at the table, but at his feet.  She doesn't kiss his hand or his cheek, but his feet (the dirt of the day's journey unwashed from them).  She uses what she has to show her desire for forgiveness - the alabaster bottle of perfume, the tears of her own eyes, and her hair.  At first this may not seem very significant, but consider this:

- The alabaster bottle of perfume was likely something she used to "adorn" herself with in the performance of her profession.  She would have likely paid a great price for it in order to make herself more appealing to the men she took into her home those nights. In pouring out that perfume, she might have been saying she was ready to be emptied of her sin - to no longer allow it to be her adorning fragrance.  I think she sought a new fragrance - that of grace and forgiveness.

- The tears she shed likely mixed with the perfumed oil poured out on those feet of Jesus.  They were evidence of her contrition - her desire to be free of her past and to be cleansed of all the toxic effect of her sin.  Tears have a way of cleansing the body - the emotion behind them expressed to Jesus the genuineness of her desire.

- The hair of a woman was only to be let down for the man you gave your life to - the man you married.  She had let her hair down for many a man in her chosen profession, but tonight, she makes a connection with Jesus.  In letting her hair down, I think she may have been saying, "Today I choose to give my life to you, Jesus." I don't know if that was the case, but I'd like to think it was her way of saying she desired him more than any other in this world.

What fragrance has been released when the crushing weight of sin was lifted from your life, my friend?  The richness of the fragrance of grace isn't soon forgotten as it lingers in the nostrils of those who experience it long after it has been released into the life of the one seeking the forgiveness of sin!  Just sayin!