Monday, August 01, 2005

The Alabaster Box

The Alabaster Box
by Kendra Lynn
“Ah! Hello, stranger, “ called the wizened, old merchant to the man passing by. “Come, see the treasures I have for you! The best gold, silver and precious stones; all at a very good price of course!”
The passerby scowled at the merchant and hurried past his stand. The merchant scowled back, but quickly changed his look as another prospective customer wandered by.
“You, sir! Come, view my wares! The finest gold, silver and precious stones in all the land!” He grinned as the man paused to look over his goods.
“Perhaps a fine gold bracelet for your wife, or a silver platter? A ring, sparkling with diamonds or rubies?” The merchant’s eyes widened as the man pointed to a small box, nearly hidden behind all the finery.
“The alabaster box! Ah, yes, master. This is a very fine box, made of the purest alabaster.” He picked up the box and opened the lid. “And, as you see, sir, inside is a vial of the most precious of anointments. Myrrh.”
“How strange that you, a merchant of fine gold and precious gems, should have such a box in his possession, “ said the man. “What is the story behind this box?”
“The story…ah, yes, the story, “ smiled the merchant. “ Do you have a few moments to spare, master? For the story is a very curious one!”
• • •
The three travelers made their way to the door of a tiny house, gifts in hand. One of them knocked on the door, and as they waited, they hurriedly checked their robes for dust and smoothed their long beards.
The door opened and a man peered out at them. “Yes?” he asked.
The oldest of the three stepped forward.
“We have come from the East to seek the newborn King. Is He here? We bring gifts to honor Him.”
“Come in, “ said the man. “I am Joseph, and this is my wife, Mary.”
“Thank you, Joseph, “ said another of the men. “We have traveled so far to see this child. Where is He?”
Mary picked up the baby from His bed on the floor, and the three men fell to their knees and worshipped Him.
“We bring You gifts, O King, “ said the oldest wise man. “ I bring You gold, so You may never know want.”
“I bring You frankincense, “ said the second wise man.
“And I bring You myrrh, O King, “ said the third, and youngest wise man. He gave to Mary an alabaster box with a small vial of the precious perfume within it.
And once again they knelt and worshipped their King.
• • •
“But, good merchant, why are you telling me this story? Why should I care that three crazy men came and gave gifts to a poor baby?”
“Ah, “ replied the merchant. “He wasn’t just any baby. Listen, master, and I will tell you who this child was.”
• • •
Not long after the visit from the wise men, the angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream.
“Take Mary and the child, Jesus, and flee to Egypt, for Herod the king wishes to kill Him, “ said the angel.
So Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt with the child, and that same night Herod issued a decree that all males under the age of two should be killed, for he feared that his kingdom would be taken from him.
• • •
“Good merchant, I have no more time for such a foolish tale, “ sighed the man.
“Wait, wait, “ said the merchant. “ I am almost finished!”
The man shrugged his shoulders. “Go on then.”
“I was selling my wares on the road that leads to Egypt, “ said the merchant with a smile. “A man and woman with a small child stopped and wished to trade with me.” The merchant paused, waiting to see if the story was sinking in.
“Hmph…” said the man, rolling his eyes.
The merchant continued his tale. “I asked the man where he was going in such a hurry, and he told me his story. Then he pulled out this alabaster box and asked what I would pay him for it. I wondered how such a poor man had come to possess such a box. And then…” Once again the merchant paused. He looked at his prospective buyer.
“Well?” demanded the man. “Did he tell you why he owned the box?”
“Yes,” answered the merchant. “ He did. He told me that the baby, named Jesus, was the Messiah.”
“What?” exclaimed the man. “You expect me to believe this tale, merchant?”
“O, master, do you believe me, a humble merchant, capable of creating such a story?” asked the merchant, bowing low to the man.
“Well, no, I guess not. Please finish.”
“Joseph claimed that the child was the Messiah. I, of course, did not believe their story, but I gave them some silver for the box. And that is how I came into possession of a beautiful alabaster box.” He looked expectantly at the man.
“How long have you had this box?”
“About thirty years, master. I set it out each day, along with my other wares. You are the first to ask about it in all these years.”
“Thirty years? Amazing! I wonder what happened to that family?” The man scratched his head thoughtfully.
“I never saw them again, “ said the merchant. “But I have heard of a man called Jesus, who is traveling the countryside. They say He may be the Messiah. He performs many miracles, and I have heard that He even offers forgiveness of sins! Can you imagine?” The merchant laughed heartily as he handed the box to the man.
“Well, master, what do you think? Ten pieces of silver and the box and its story are yours!”
“Hmmm…ten pieces, you say? All right. I’ll take it, and perhaps someday I’ll actually find this Jesus!” He chuckled and poured his silver into the merchant’s waiting hand. “Shalom, good merchant,” he said, and he walked down the road with the alabaster box in his hands.
• • •
The city was teeming with people, as the man with the alabaster box entered its gates. He looked about him somewhat puzzled.
“Jacob!” He turned at the sound of his name and saw a friend making her way toward him.
“Ah, Elizabeth, how good to see you.”
“Jacob, have you heard? Jesus is here!” Elizabeth shifted her heavy basket from one hand to the other.
“Jesus, who is He?” asked Jacob. His hand went to the bag at his side, where he had placed the precious alabaster box.
“Who is He?” Elizabeth threw her head back and laughed. “He’s just the most famous man in all Judea! He travels, teaching and healing people. Its rumored that He has even cast out demons! He’ll be speaking today on the hill just outside the eastern gate. Go, listen to what He has to say.” She patted Jacob’s arm, hefted her basket higher, and said, “Well, I must be going. Shalom, Jacob.”
“Shalom, Elizabeth, “ he muttered to her retreating back.
The crowd around him started moving and talking excitedly. A woman pushed him back, and cried, “Move aside! Here comes Jesus!”
A group of men came into view and he immediately recognized the one called Jesus. His countenance was gentle, yet commanding, and His eyes, when He looked at Jacob, seemed to burn right through into his very soul.
The crowd rushed toward Jesus, calling His name, trying to touch Him. But the men moved on quickly. One of them called out, “Jesus will be teaching on the eastern hill today. You may see Him there.”
The people quieted as the men walked away, and Jacob sighed in relief. He walked to the well to relieve his parched throat with a cool drink of water. A woman was there, dressed in the colorful clothes of a harlot, only her eyes visible above her veil. He looked at her out of the corner of his eye as he drew out a drink of water.
She was quite pretty, he decided, and she looked available. He cupped his hands and drank the water. The woman just stood there, her eyes downcast. He spoke to her.
“Hello.” He smiled his most winning smile, and she lowered her head even further, offering no response to his greeting.
“I said, hello!” He grabbed her arm and she stepped back from him. His face turned angry, and he grabbed her arm again.
“You have no right not to answer me,” he growled. “You are just a woman of the night! Speak, woman!”
“What is it that you want, master, “ she asked. She lifted her head as she spoke.
“Ah, yes. I think you know what I want, “ he replied with a grin. She lowered her head again, as though she were ashamed.
“Come, “ said Jacob. “Take me to your house. I will pay whatever price you name.”
She looked at him, eyes blazing.
“The price will be high, master.”
“I really don’t care, “ he said, taking her again by the arm, this time more gently. He put his free hand to the bag at his side.
“What is in your bag, “ asked the woman.
“Hmmm? Oh, nothing much, “ lied Jacob.
“My payment is in that bag, “ the woman said to him.
“Oh, no, “ said Jacob. “I cannot pay you with the contents of this bag.” He clutched the bag protectively.
“You said that I could name the price. I named it. Your bag, or you can find another to keep company with tonight.”
“Fine, “ he growled. “Now let’s go!”
“Give me the bag beforehand.” She held out her hand. He stared at the outstretched hand for a moment, then he took the bag and gave it to her.
“Follow me, “ she said.
Later, after Jacob had gone, Mary Magdalene sat on her bed, holding in her hand a beautiful alabaster box. Her shame overcoming her, she put her face in her hands and cried out, “God, please help me!”
• • •
Jesus and His disciples were dining at the house of Simon. A small crowd had gathered outside the house, talking among themselves, waiting to see Jesus. Suddenly the people grew quiet.
A woman, dressed in the clothes of a harlot, made her way toward them.
“Its Mary Magdalene, “ a lady whispered. The people grew angry. Some picked up small stones and began to threaten to stone her. She did not look to the left or the right, but made her way to the door of Simon’s house. Mary hesitated for a moment, bowing her head.
“Father, forgive me, “ she said, as she raised her fist to knock on the door.
A knock sounded at the door. Simon rose and opened the door. Before him stood Mary Magdalene, clutching a bag to her chest.
“Get out of here, “ said Simon. “Your kind is not welcome in my home!” He went to shut the door in her face, but she stepped halfway in.
“Please, “ she pleaded. “I must see Jesus! I need to see Jesus!”
“You cannot, “ said Simon. “He is eating. You’ll have to see Him some other time.” He tried to shut the door once again, but a voice from the room behind him caused him to stop.
“Simon, let her come in, “ said Jesus.
“But, Master, “ began Simon.
“Let her in, “ repeated Jesus.
Simon reluctantly opened the door. Mary timidly stepped inside, her eyes downcast. Simon hurried to Jesus’ side.
“Lord, there is no place in my house for such a woman!”
“Hush, Simon.” Jesus looked at him, and Simon sat back down.
“Come here, Mary, “ He said, and He held out His hand to her. She raised her eyes to His and made her way to where He sat.
Without a word she knelt before Him. She opened her bag and took out the alabaster box. She kissed His feet, wetting them with her tears. Then she opened the box and took out a bottle. She broke the seal on the vial, and poured the expensive ointment on the feet of Jesus.
The disciples murmured among themselves in low angry tones, but Jesus only held up His hand and they quieted.
Mary rubbed the ointment into Jesus’ feet, tears running down her face. The she pulled back her head covering, and with her long hair she dried the Master’s feet.
Then Jesus spoke, as Mary continued to kneel at His feet. “Simon, “ He said.
“Yes, Master?”
“I entered your house today, and you gave me no water to wash my feet. This woman has washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.” Jesus looked at Simon, and then again at Mary.
“Simon, you did not greet me with the kiss of a brother, but this woman has not ceased to kiss my feet since she entered this house.”
Simon squirmed in his seat, his face red.
“Simon, you did not anoint me with oil, but this woman anointed my feet with precious oils. I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven because she loved me so much. But the one who loves a little is only forgiven a little.” Then Jesus turned to Mary and spoke.
“Your sins are forgiven, your faith has saved you. Now go in peace.”
Mary kissed His feet once again, and left the house of Simon. She walked through the streets with her head held high and a smile on her lips, never again to be the same.
• • •
“I guess that small alabaster box changed her life. Mary never saw Jacob again, but I’ve heard that he, too, has become a believer of Christ! Now, I’m not sure what I believe! But I was in Jerusalem on the day that the man, Jesus Christ, was crucified. Strange things happened that day. I remember there was an earthquake, the sky turned black, and I’ve even heard of graves being opened! But I don’t really want to talk about that! I do wonder sometimes, what if I hadn’t sold that box to Jacob? What if I had been the one to take the alabaster box to Jesus? What if I had given my all to Him? I wonder…but I really don’t want to think about that right now, its just too strange! But, what if it had been me? I wonder….”
The End