The woman who broke the alabaster flask and poured the ointment over Jesus’s head in Luke 7:37-50, gives us an excellent look at faith and repentance at work in the midst of weeping. The word “weeping” used in verse 38 means “sobbing and wailing aloud”.
Mark’s account (Mark 14:3-9) describes the process of brokenness to be like “an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious . . . and she brake the box, and poured it on his head” (Mark 14:3). There are some wonderful metaphors in Mark 14:3.
First, the breaking of the alabaster flask was an outward symbol of the divine work God was about to do in her own heart. The box is a type of pure heart surrendering to God in brokenness. Thayer’s Greek lexicon says the ointment poured out was myrrh, which, in the Hebrew, also means mourning, bitterness and tears. Myrrh was commonly used when burying the dead. Myrrh was also used as a pain reliever.
Symbolically, mourning and myrrh represent dying to ourselves; and mourning and dying to ourselves are also great pain relievers. Second, the word spike- nard consists of two Greek words which mean spike and nard. The nard is the head or spike of a fragrant East Indian plant belonging to the valeriana family. This plant yields a juice of delicious odor.
Webster’s says valeriana is an herb which has strong, powerful medicinal virtues which both cleanse and calm. This too is symbolic of the inner work God does in our hearts through our brokenness, which releases a sweet aroma to the Lord. And it both cleanses and calms.
Third, the word “spike” means “genuine, unadulterated”. To be genuine is to be true, authentic, real and without pretense. Something unadulterated is pure. There is nothing purer than the nakedness of a repentant heart. We are never more real than in these moments, and the more broken we become, the more authentic we are. Our conscious and unconscious pretensions and defenses melt away, and we greet the world “naked” and unashamed. No more in need of them, our cherished fig leaves lie forsaken and forgiven in the puddle of our prized and precious tears. We soar upon the healing wings of Christ’s resurrection. More and more of who God created us to be emerges from the dust and ashes of repentance. This is what it means to be “real” and “genuine”.
The heart of the woman who broke the alabaster box was laid bear in the sacrifice of her broken heart and contrite spirit. She was not self-conscious or concerned about what others were thinking. Neither was Jesus. Without guile, she poured out her soul and her sins in repentance at His feet.
And fourth, the word “spike” is from a root word meaning faith and truth. Obviously, mourning is a great act of faith and also a great truth, because Jesus’s final words to her were, “Your faith has saved [delivered, healed and made] you [whole]; go in peace” (Luke 7:50).
After she broke the alabaster flask, “she stood at his feet behind him weeping [sobbing and wailing], and began to wash his feet with her tears” (Luke 7:38).
This woman’s tears washed the feet of Jesus, and so do ours. Jesus called this act of mourning and repentance not only an act of faith but a manifestation of great love (Luke 7:47).
“Wherefore I say unto thee, her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.”
Gerald Sittser wrote in A Grace Disguised that “the choice to love requires the courage to grieve”. When we love, our hearts will be broken. If our hearts are not broken, we cannot love. Love for the Lord will bring brokenness, repent- ance and forgiveness of sin. In this process we are freed to love all the more, because we are freed from those things that hinder our loving.