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Archive for March, 2015

Mary’s Alabaster Box


Alabaster boxes were originally Egyptian vessels made of a peculiar stone, a kind of soft white marble which was supposed to be specially adapted to preserve the odor of perfumed ointments. The Greeks named the vessels from the town of Alabastron where they were made, and the stone afterward was called by the same name. This white mineral was easy to carve and polish, so Israelites used it to make beautiful jars and vases. The alabastra were of various shapes and sizes bored with a drill by the Egyptians and hollowed out with a chisel by the Palestinians.

Ancient traders often sealed costly perfume in an alabaster jar, allowing the scent to escape only gradually through the jar’s porous shell over many years. Theocritus, a third century B.C. poet, reports that merchants of Palestine used alabaster jars in the same way.


Mark 14:5 says that this box of ointment was worth more than 300 pence –  a year’s wages.  A denarius (or “penny”) was what an agricultural worker typically was paid for one day’s labor (Mt. 20:2). If we assume U.S. minimum wage for 10 hours, then currently that would be $72.50 per day; $362.50 per week; $18,850 per year, hence the price of the woman’s alabaster box today. Compare this with the feeding of the 5,000 men (plus women and children), where the disciples noted that 200 pennyworth (denarii) ($14,500) was insufficient to feed the group (Mk. 6:37; Jn. 6:7). (Easton, Illustrated Bible Dictionary)

The fragrance of some ointments is said to have remained in the alabastra for hundreds of years. This explains why Jesus’ disciples rebuked the woman who broke an alabaster box to pour the perfume it contained upon Jesus’ head. The disciples complained that she was wasting a precious scent which could have been enjoyed for years. But Jesus rebuked the disciples, praised the woman, and the house where they were gathered was filled with the odor of the precious ointment (John 12.3).

Kendall tells that in the days of Jesus, when a young woman reached the age of availability for marriage, her family would purchase an alabaster box for her and fill it with precious ointment. The size of the box and the value of the ointment would parallel her family’s wealth. This alabaster box would be part of her dowry. When the young man came to ask for her in marriage, she would respond by taking the alabaster box and breaking it at his feet. The gesture of anointing his feet showed him honor. (Jackie Kendall)


Only John identifies the woman as Mary (the sister of Martha and Lazarus) (John 12:1-3). Matthew, Mark, and Luke simply call her woman.  When she “broke” the vessel,  she likely broke off, as was usually done, the long and narrow neck so as to reach the contents. Since this stone resembles marble, but is softer in its texture, it is easily made into boxes.


The ointment mentioned in the text is called by Mark ointment of spikenard probably because that costly aromatic plant was one of the principal ingredients. Spikenard is one of the most precious spices of the Bible. The Hebrew for it is nerd; the Greeks called it nardos. It grew extensively in northern India, and has been found high in the Himalayan Mountains. It grows small with many spikes on one root, bearing pink blossoms; thus it is sometimes called the Indian spike. Perfumed oil is extracted from these spikes. Mark says it cost about 300 denari, or about one average worker’s salary for one year. It was precious! The receptacles for this expensive perfume have been found by archaeologists under the debris of walls, among the ruins of patrician houses, and in royal palaces.


Each of us is specially made to be a vessel of honor. We are all different shapes and sizes, precious in His sight, sealed by the Holy Spirit to give forth the fragrance of Jesus from our lives. Sometimes that fragrance just escapes gradually; other times, it comes gushing forth!


The Psalmist David says, The Lord is near unto them that are of a broken heart; and saves those of a contrite spirit (Psa.34:18). How vitally necessary it is that we are truly sorry for our sin, a sorrow that works repentance and turns us totally around. It causes us to stop doing the things that grieve Jesus and begin to live in a way that pleases Him. Such was the contrite spirit of the woman–John calls her Mary–who broke the alabaster box of precious ointment on Jesus. When she was broken because of her sin. Jesus forgave her, and she experienced a gratitude deeper than words. Being a young woman in the presence of so many men, she was not allowed to vocally express herself. Such a privilege was not permitted women of that day, so she did all that she could. She acted by arising and going after the most precious gift she could think of–a very costly bottle of perfume. She wanted to show Him her love, but how? By giving. She gave it to Jesus in a way that He would know that at least one person truly loved Him and believed Him to be the Messiah.


Mary worshipped the one who had set her free by giving herself and all that she had. The Apostle Paul wrote: I beg you … by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God …(Rom.12:1). A sacrifice is a gift of something precious, meaningful, and the best. In the Old Testament, God’s people gave the first and the best from among their flock as an offering to God. When the Lord smelled Noah’s offerings, they were a scent of satisfaction to His heart and caused Him to have mercy on His people (Gen. 8:21). The same thing happened when Jesus smelled the sacrifice that Mary gave Him that memorable day. His heart was turned toward her. He not only accepted her sacrifice, but her act of giving became a sermon to all those who looked on.


After Mary broke the box of precious ointment, she poured the perfume over Jesus’ head (say Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and feet (says John), and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment. “The anointing which you have received of Him abides (lives) in you” (I John 2:17). Therefore, “out of your innermost being springs and rivers of living water shall flow continuously”(John 7:38). Remember, you are His vessel and contain His fragrance which will bubble up like fresh spring water and overflow into the lives of others. This pouring forth brings the anointed message of Jesus to all those it touches. It is His fragrance, His anointing, His oil, His precious ointment that will fill the place. Jesus said, The spirit of the Lord is now upon me because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord (Luke 4:18-19). Now if the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, what do you do? Jesus answers this question: Verily, I say unto you … the works that I do shall you do also, and greater works than these shall you do… (John 14:12). Of Mary who poured the precious ointment on Him, Jesus said, Wherever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman has done, be told for a memorial of her (Matt.26.13).


Mary knew that the anointing came from being at Jesus’ feet–in His Presence. She wasn’t moved by the critics around her but continued to pour the precious ointment on Him. Jesus rebuked her critics and made her famous throughout the centuries right into our lives today. Our love for Jesus, like Mary’s, is a commitment that is not swayed by what other people say or think. It is the deep expression of gratitude that comes from a heart that has experienced His forgiveness. The fragrance of such gratitude is a sweet smelling savor in the nostrils of our Lord.


We all give off some kind of smell through our actions, attitudes, and words. Like it or not, we smell like the people with whom we spend time. If they’re smoking, we smell like smoke. If they’re wearing strong perfume, and we hug them, the smell stays with us. Like it or not, we smell like what we eat. If we eat garlic, we smell like garlic. If we eat peanuts, we smell like peanuts. Trying to cover it up usually makes it worse. Like it or not, we begin to talk like the people with whom we spend time. If they use slang words, we soon hear ourselves repeating them. If they use praise words, we echo them. What do others smell when they are near you?


THE ALABASTER BOX: Spreading the Fragrance of Jesus

What do we do to show our love and faith to Jesus? Mary set aside pride and embarrassment in order to demonstrate her love and faith in Jesus. How far are we willing to go in order to show our love for Him? Let’s see to it that we fellowship with Jesus in worship, in prayer, by reading His Word, and enjoying the company of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Then in our brokenness, in our sacrifices, in our pouring out into the lives of others, and in our expression of love for Him, we’ll smell like Him, talk like Him, and spread His fragrance wherever we go. Amen.

May it be so while we are in these earthen vessels (alabaster boxes?) headed for the Throne!



M.G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain, copy freely.

Jackie Kendall, Say Goodbye to Shame: And 77 Other Stories of Hope and Encouragement, 156


(c) C. Yvonne Karl, The Alabaster Box, 1986

Author’s Bio


A widow since January 1999, Yvonne was married for 31 years to Julius Karl, who immigrated from Germany to Canada at age 22. He attended German Bibelschule in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and was the founding pastor of the Gemeinde Gottes (German Church of God) in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. After seven years in Canada, he came to the United States where he first attended Warner Pacific (College) University, then received a B.S. degree from Anderson University-Indiana (1965) and a Master’s of Divinity from Anderson School of Theology (1968). From there, he completed M.A.( 1970) and Ph.D. (1974) degrees at Indiana University. Julius and Yvonne met and married (1967) while both were teaching at Anderson (College) University in Anderson, Indiana. In 1995, Julius accepted the call to reopen the North Edmonton Church of God, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; and he and Yvonne spent June, July, and August completing that pastoral assignment. In August 1976, Julius accepted the pastorate at Riverside Park Church of God in Livonia, Michigan. In January 1981, he became pastor of New Life Community Church in Westland, Michigan where he remained until his death in January 1999. (Read more about Julius’ life in war-torn Germany and subsequent immigration and education:


Yvonne is intimately acquainted with the church community having been active in various aspects of church work for many years including serving as ecumenical minister to summer farm workers in Indiana and Michigan (1966, 1967) and as co-pastor with her husband at New Life Community Church in Michigan from 1984 until his death in 1999. She continued there as pastor for 2 1/2 years until retiring in summer 2001. She has served as speaker in various conferences including a gathering of Christian professionals in Cape Town South Africa and the Agape Association of Bible Schools in Ghana, West Africa. She also served several years on the Board of Agape Gospel Mission (Ghana) and has traveled across the world. Passionate about the Lord Jesus Christ, she communicates His Word in a down-to-earth, unpretentious style knowing that all who so desire will experience His life-changing power in their lives.


Beginning in 1986, Yvonne served as editor of The Alabaster Box which was circulated around the world monthly for more than 20 years. She has authored six inspirational books and published hundreds of articles. Her books are out of stock and out of print, but occasionally they show up as used books on Amazon, Alibris, and Abe Books under author name: C. Yvonne Karl.


In addition to ministry and writing assignments, Yvonne is a retired educator who served assignments in five states including teaching in secondary schools, as well as at Michigan State University, Anderson University-Indiana, and Agape Bible College-Ghana, W.Africa. She also served as school counselor in Indiana and K-12 principal in Michigan. Most recently she served a two-year term as Administrator of Wright Way Bible Institute in Culloden WV.


Yvonne grew up in Nitro, West Virginia, graduated from Nitro High School (1958) and West Virginia State University (1961). After college, she went back to Nitro High to teach for three years before leaving to do graduate studies at Michigan State University and Anderson University-School of Theology, doctorate studies at Indiana University, Lake Charles Bible College, and post doc studies at The University of Michigan. While living in Las Vegas, she became a certified Chaplain with the Greater Western Division of MChapUSA.

Yvonne has been awarded multiple listings in Marquis’ Who’s Who in American Education, Who’s Who of American Women, Who’s Who in America, and Who’s Who in the World.


For the many and varied exciting opportunities in her life, Yvonne gives credit first and foremost to her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. She honors numerous others who impacted her life positively in ways only fully seen in retrospect: Principals she worked for: John Santrock (to whom she gives credit for her start on this  journey), Raymond Arbogast, Jayne Jones, Philip Rambo, William Houghton, Multiples at Inkster High School; Pastors: Mark Haynie, Robert Hazen; Evangelist, Dr. E. E. Wolfram; WVSU Professors Dr. Sarah Crosby and Dr. Lawrence Jordan; AU Professors Nilah Meier and Dr. Nancy Osborne; AU-SOT Professor Dr. Irene Caldwell; MSU Chairman Dr. Townsend, Professors Robert Bishop and Dr. Carlos Teran; IU Professor Jung and Professor Stone; especially her late husband, Julius Karl, who continually encouraged her to be active in her God-given gifts; her family, friends, and the list is inexhaustible. No life is lived without the influence of others. To God be the glory forever and ever! Amen (Galatians 1:5).


Yvonne has two adult children and three grandchildren. Her daughter is an orchestra teacher in Reno, Nevada. Her son is a Family Physician in South Carolina at

UPDATED July 2017 – As of July 2017, Yvonne lives in the Greenville area of South Carolina.

Email for more information:

…one thing I do, forgetting the things behind, but reaching out toward the things that lie ahead with reference to the goal, I pursue toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus  (Philippians 3:13-14, LNT).

For other articles about Yvonne’s life, click on PERSONAL under Categories on the right.

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