The Woman With The Vessel

Portrait of the Woman With The Alabaster Jar, by Benedict Edet


The woman had a vessel filled with precious oil.

The oil was a physical element used to anoint the one of divine royalty.

It was an element used to anoint the body in preparation for burial, and journey.

The woman brought the element to anoint a man as the Messiah.

Some of her actions were a type and shadow of what Jesus would do hours later at the Last Supper.

She broke…

And poured.

She is not named.

No title, or position.

Did the apostles object because they really were concerned about using these resources to feed the poor?


Or maybe they felt their own position threatened. She was not an apostle. A high priest. She was the lowliest. No official power. Not worth naming. Yet here she was, consecrating Jesus to be God among us. To create him as someone the apostles themselves were not yet ready to witness.

We are not told what words she said. Did she speak something beyond description? Or beyond their understanding?

What did this do to Jesus? He received it willingly. What power did this act have on him? Was it a necessary part of Jesus becoming Christ? Did the precious oil, or her words, or her actions, have a part in the transformation?

Something happened.

Jesus Christ said that anywhere the Gospel is taught, this story would be told.

I don’t find this story in many lesson manuals, or mentioned in many talks. So I let go of the literal story, and look for where the transforming message appears.

The Gospel of Christ is a message of God becoming us, being us, feeling with us so completely, we are at one. This is done without condition. God is love without condition. This overwhelming gift of grace has the power to transform us. We are asked to learn and live this love, then transform each other, and the world with it.

Jesus taught this, and practiced it grace by grace. Was the anointing of precious oil a crucial step for him to take on the exquisite agony of Gethsemane?

What were her powerful words, her actions that created for him the entire message of Gospel, the good news, in that moment?

I have been thinking of this today, exactly 19 years after the death of my father. We were there in those last moments, holding him, singing to him, breathing every breath as though our lungs could somehow keep his working.

Then, letting go.

Whatever transformation takes place in that moment, I do not have words for it.

Soon after, I was still there with a few of my sisters, before they came to take him away. The precious element was tears, in preparation for burial. It was each other we were anointing, before the agony of Gethsemane.

There is no title, no calling, no description for this. This agony belonged to all of us, and we were one. Everything that was most beloved could not be taken by death.

Years later, I was in the emergency room. My husband, Mike had been brought there after a serious bicycle accident, and I had rushed to be with him. He was repeating the same sentence over and over. The doctors told me he had a severe head injury, and would probably never completely recover. The precious element I poured out, without script or pattern or office, was a plea to God for help. Their words to me – Fear not, we are with you, be not afraid. We are yours, and will give you aid.

They did.

A few years after that, I was lying face down in the tube of a huge machine, getting an MRI after being diagnosed with breast cancer. My arms were extended above my head, my hands reaching outside the machine. Mike was standing there holding my hand during the 50 minutes I was trying to hold still, while the machine loudly blasted away. He looked at his watch, and gently pressed my hand each minute that passed. His precious element was touch. Each touch anointed me with connection in preparation for the Gethsemane ahead – “Fear not. I am with you.”

At times, I can acknowledge the need for administration, organization, named positions to create community ritual, structure and practice. I have found great value in this. I can also acknowledge the human tendency to create hierarchy, to quantify power and authority, and to assign value and inherent worth to title and position. There is not a single community or organization to which I belong where this has not happened. No matter the claims of truth, advocacy, enlightenment, or progressive thought, this happens. It is in the nature of all…when they get a little authority.

Where do I find the gospel, the good news?

Where do I invite the presence of God into the world, and anoint Them into existence?

Those in positions of authority have specific roles, and I can learn to recognize when their actions in those roles can be inspiring to me.

And I do not need to wait for any of that to be present, or in tune, or aware of my path, in order to participate in pure Gospel work.

There is no title or position or authority required to recognize the presence of God in my life.

There is no description for which precious element might create transformation of mortal to divine.

There are no words that can describe the love of God.

The actions and offering of a nameless, lowly woman anointed Jesus as the Messiah, in preparation for him, as Christ, to reveal the transforming power of At-One-Ment, the connection of love that is stronger than death – in Gethsemane, and always.

I am – we are each – the woman, the vessel, the precious oil, the anointed.

That is the good news.


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3 Responses

  1. Allemande Left says:

    Thank you for this beautiful post. I had not thought about the woman who anointed Jesus in this way or as fully as you have.
    Yes, Jesus accepted her gift of anointing without questioning her authority to do such a thing.

    “I am – we are each – the woman, the vessel, the precious oil, the anointed.

    That is the good news.“

    You’ve joined her efforts to all our efforts

    We only need to see this more clearly as you demonstrate in your relationships with your family. Thank you Jody.

  2. Chiaroscuro says:

    I love this. “There is no title or position or authority required to recognize the presence of God in my life.
    There is no description for which precious element might create transformation of mortal to divine.
    There are no words that can describe the love of God.” your words are a balm. i’m weary of the wounds inflicted by loved ones who continue to tell me how wrong and inadequate i am.

  3. Kirsten says:

    Jody– This is beautiful and just what I needed today. “Church” has been really difficult since March. Since I am the only practicing member in my home, I am in the eyes of the Church, “single”. No access to the sacrament since then has been really tough. However, a wise friend advised me to let the structure of the Church fall away and to embrace this opportunity to nurture my relationship with God. Your post helps me to focus on that. Thank you.

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