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Poem - The Alabaster Disaster

The Alabaster Disaster
Elder O. Kris Widmer  -  MDiv, Poet Apprentice

Idea:  7 January 2010        In Process: Now & Then; Here & There          This Printing: 27 April 2016
The Backstory to Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:36-50; John 12:1-11

I recall hearing two sermons relating the story of the woman buying the perfume to anoint Jesus’ feet.

I seem to recall a message by Dr. H. Roger Bothwell.
I have just, as of 30 March 2016, confirmed from Ian Bothwell on Facebook
that indeed her husband is the original author of this story.

The second one was preached my friend, Dr. John McVay, at the Loma Linda University Church,
I was blessed to come across a DVD Recording of this message.
I’m assuming he was reproaching his own version of the Bothwell story.

I transcribed the opening story portion of Dr. McVay’s message
and I then I preached it at the Antioch Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The title of this poem is the same as the title of the McVay recording.
A poetic title indeed!

In this poem, I have kept most all of the specific details from the story of the McVay sermon,
taking additional liberties here and there to craft the story into meter and rhyme.

I dedicate this poem to the use of creativity and the arts in preaching.
and in gratitude to the preachers that have mentored me from near or far.
This list includes
Charles Sandefur, Roger Bothwell, Louis Venden, John McVay, Richard Duerksen, and others.

To God Be The Glory.



The Alabaster Disaster
Elder O. Kris Widmer  -  MDiv, Poet Apprentice

Idea:  7 January 2010        In Process: Now & Then; Here & There          This Printing: 27 April 2016
The Backstory to Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:36-50; John 12:1-11

She slips out in the morning on an all-important task.
To trade her tawdry treasure for an all-important flask.
Now, in these pre-dawn moments, she furtively walks the street;
Glad there are no other people up at that hour to meet.

She has walked streets before, but not this part of town.
“A lady of the evening”, in an upper-thigh length gown.
Back then, she would be in bed all night, but never sleep a wink.
A gal like her was bound for hell, that’s what the townsfolk think.

Back then; she’d just be ending work at this pre-dawn hour.
But that was then and this was now.  She’d somehow found the power
To step out of the shadows, into the light, you see.
And it was all because of the Master – from Nazareth in Galilee.

Pause with me and take a look.  Catch a glimpse of her yearning face.
An attractive, beautiful woman; that time’s trauma can’t erase.
She stops to read the signage.  First one, and then another.
She’s the daughter of a couple - with a sister and a brother.

She knows right where she’s going; she’s bought goods there before.
Her brother’s birthday present, and her Dad’s… “Ah, here’s the door.”
She enters. On the counter is a brass, long-handled bell.
And all through out the building - a pungent, punchy smell.

She waits to see if Omar will come without the chime.
It appears he must be occupied; she rings the bell this time.
Then from out behind the curtain, steps the owner; short and round.
“I’m sorry. I not hear you come!  You didn’t make a sound.”

“Ah, it’s you!  Yes, pretty lady.  Welcome to my shop!
Is it your brother’s birthday or maybe, again, your Pop!
I know what is your favorite.  I’ll get it, just a sec.”
Said Omar - jolly, brown and bald; with swarthy, sweaty neck.

“You open up my shop, O.K?  Best sale of the day!
You get my workday started in a good financial way.
I make you special deal; an extra special price.
Because you repeat customer, I treat you very nice!”
1
He reaches below the counter for the cheapest thing he had.
That’s what she bought the last time she was here to gift her Dad.
It was olive oil and lemon zest, with sage – a scent for men.
She’d bought it several times before. Now she was back again.

“I don’t want that.” She speaks at last. “That was a different me.
Is there something else that you might have that I would like to see?”
I know that’s not the finest scent you have inside your store!
Don’t you have a little something that costs a little more?”

By now, you realize this place; this fantastic, fragrant room -
Is an old-world side-street mercantile, which sells the world’s perfume!
2
 “Well, Ma’am, in fact I do. What a wonderful surprise.”
The hope of a larger sale puts a glint in Omar’s eyes.
He reaches below the counter, and grabs a box of wood.
“If you’re wanting something special, this is what you should

Consider. Locally made product – Roses from Jordan’s banks.
When your beloved shall wear it - they’ll offer you their thanks.”
He props the lid wide open “Ma’am, Please. Go on. Inhale.”
By the look upon her face…he thinks he made the sale.

“How much?” the lady asks him. “I tell you special price.
Because my in-laws are away…and the weather should be nice.
For you, because I like you…and my first sale of the day.
Five dollars – you should buy it. Please take it. On your way!”

She held his gaze a moment.  She questions “Roses, ‘twas?”
She has a bit more money, but she’ll not tell him she does.
“I want to buy the finest scent you have inside your store!
Don’t you have a little something that costs a little more?”
3
Omar looks her over.  He hadn’t planned for this.
He stashes back the wooden box “I must have been remiss.
I have a simple metal box.  It’s understated grace.”
He plucks it from it’s hiding spot, and guides it towards her face.

“Ma’am, an infusion of the Iris that blooms just once all year.
It’s imported from Damascus. They cannot make it here.
It is not an imitation. No, this is the real McCoy!
He opens up the cover. “It’s a wondrous scent. Enjoy!”

She pulls her hands towards her, to get a stronger whiff.
It was as if a spring bouquet was there for her nose to sniff.
Her eyes are closed. Her lips? A smile! - so Omar thinks “Oh wow!
She’s going to want it. I can tell. She’ll close the deal now!”

“How much?” The lady asks him. “We’ll Ma’am. You understand
It is from far Damascus; thus a long, slow caravan
Must bring it here! But, as I really like you and I’m little bit behind…
A hundred dollars. Take it now, before I change my mind!

She hesitates, just slightly.  He knows, by how she stood,
She’ll resort to his first offer - the rose filled box of wood.
They always did, and she would too – at least a sale’s a sale.
He’d seen it happen many times, almost without fail.

She takes a breath. “Ah, here it comes. ‘I’ll take the rose.’ she’ll say.”
“Excuse me, please, Good Omar.  This box is kind of grey.
“I want to buy the finest scent you have inside your store!
Don’t you have a little something that costs a little more?”
4
Omar now gets worried.  She looks not like a thief.
She arrived quite early, and alone - and that was a relief!
She appears, to him, so ordinary, not the type with money.
He has to squelch a giggle, for now it strikes him funny.

 “I do have other products; with tags of hand-made vellum.
I did not bring them out before, I hardly ever sell ‘em.”
Now he lifts a silver box, with a functional mechanical clasp.
With a knob upon the lid  - in the shape of a little asp.

“Ma’am, you asked for ‘more expensive’, and this one fits that bill.
You can see that it’s Egyptian.   But, it includes one free refill!
So, for the discerning buyer, it is really quite a steal.
And…it comes with a custom carry bag – in ivory, slate or teal.”

 “The formula is ancient. The ingredients are classified.
Its body-balm of cardamom, with balsam – purified.
It’s a gift of rare extravagance that few here can afford
It’s a gift for a lovely lady, who is wedded to a lord.

His nod gives her permission to release the clap, and flip
The lid back for a moment. It is not a step to skip.
The scent is truly wonderful.  Like nothing she’s ever smelt.
While Omar fidgets nervously with the fabric of his belt.

Her reverie is ended. Again they’re eye to eye.
Privately she ponders just what she’ll eventually buy.
“How much?” The lady asks once more. Omar smoothes his collar.
“For you today, my special price, is only one thousand dollar.

Her slender lady fingers reach within a garment fold.
Omar hears coins clanking!  A sound that n’er grows old!
He sees her doing mental math. “I’ve more than that, you hear!”
And that is also music to a perfume peddler’s ear!

“I want to buy the finest scent you have inside your store!
Don’t you have a little something that costs a little more?”
Now, his wide eyes widen further.  He glances at the door.
For what he’s about to show her, he’s never shown before.

“Ma’am, I heard your coinage clinking.  I trust what you have said.”
His olive skin is different now, flushed to an olive-red.
In all his years in business, he’s never experienced this.
And he now has to be certain that nothing is amiss.
5
So, now his “security system” must be quickly activated.
What began as a simple sale has somehow escalated!
He bustles from his counter, to the door to check the street.
He locks the door, returning.  Now his security is complete.

His palms have now gone clammy, his saliva in short supply.
He croaks in conversation.  His mouth has now gone dry.
“Ma’am, I (cough) have another treasure. (croak) Give me a moment, please.”
He goes in the back to fetch it on trembling, nervous knees.

What he brings is wrapped in linen; woven tight, with the finest thread.
A golden vase and stopper, with a ribbon of brightest red.
Pure symmetry and loveliness - it shines in the morning light.
He removes the stopper this time, for he knows the seal is tight.

“Ma’am.  This has been imported from the capital in Rome.
It was made near the Tiber River.  It’s just never found a home
Yet.   It is saffron merged with cinnamon, with a dash of vanilla bean.
It’s intended for a King to give to his beloved Queen.”

He does not let her touch it, for her hands would leave a mark.
Her eyes seem now to smolder with a fire, though very dark.
“How much?” Her familiar question. “How much?” she asks again.
 “Two thousand and five hundred.  You’re going to take it then?”

He waits to hear her happy “Yes!” but this is not the case.
Her lip begins to quiver, as she gazes in his face.
Her hands clap tight together and she holds them to her breast.
“I have to know, Sir.  I have to know.  Is this one here your BEST?!”

“It can’t be ‘good’ or ‘better’.  It can’t be just ‘great’ perfume.
I want it to make a statement when the aroma fills the room.
I’ve asked you several time, now Sir…I’ll repeat it as before.
I want to buy the finest scent you have inside your store!
Could you possibly have one item yet that costs a little more?”

His diastolic numbers rise.  His pulse? In the unsafe zone!
Omar asks her once again. “Are you sure you came alone?”
“And you actually have the funding to procure the very best?”
He couldn’t tell by looking.  She was not finely dressed.
6
He stares upon her earnest face. He ponders her financer.
He broods “She sure can bargain.  I doubt she’ll like my answer.”
His brow is moist with icy sweat.  His heart in palpitation.
She has finally worn him down.  He’ll make no protestation.

“Madam, In fact I do.  I have one more scent-filled treasure.
It was purchased as an investment.  It value is beyond all measure.
My ancestors and I have saved for years for this artifact.
There is no item in all the world that can equal its impact.”

With that he disappeared again.  He was gone for quite a while.
She heard some noise occasionally – digging, and then a dial.
Then, he returns while carrying - on a pillow of milk-white weave –
An item in crushed, red velvet. (Omar felt like he might heave.)

He swallows hard, then stammers, as he peels the corners down
“Th-This is a-an al-alabaster jar.  The o-only one I ever f-found.”
It gleams like a starry galaxy in the darkest midnight sky.
He pauses to let that all sink in.  She does not bat an eye.

He resumes, in words of reverence  “Fr-from India it came.
It is M-Myrrh with a hint of Marjoram.  It p-puts other scents to shame.
It’s a g-gift fit for an emperor to p-p-present to his em-empress.
And I only sh-sh-show it now to you under g-great d-duress!”

“A-and s-see.  No one can s-sample it.  Th-this adds to its worth.
I’m sure there not another like it a-anywhere on earth.
This f-flask - it has no opening – no st-stopper, lid or spout.
Once this jar is broken…ALL it’s contents will flow out.

And that adds to its value too!  Behold, the opulence!
The pad, the wrap, the jar – Ma’am, it’s truly o’er the fence!
It can’t be used time and time again. All others are but stunts!
This is for those who would give there ALL.  You can use it only once!

Teardrops filled her eyes this time.  But, her lips curve in a grin.
For she knows her beloved Master has forgiven ALL her sin.
Now, she desires something to show her gratitude.
Yes…this was what she was looking for – that was certitude.

In her mind, she’s already bought it - a bargain at any price.
But still, she had to ask him.  To know would be very nice.
Her heart is now also beating at a rate it has never pulsed.
She’d gone in search of treasure.  She was thrilled with the results.

“How much is this container?  Tell me, Sir, the cost!”
Omar tried to wet his lips.  But his  saliva now was lost.
In a voice that is just a whisper.  He stutters the amount.
“Ten Thousand Dollars, Madam. I cannot give discount!” 

Then, he watches in stone-cold silence as she reaches in that fold.
(And thus is born a story whose telling grows not old.)
She brings forth the clinking money, with just a bit of flair.
They pile up on the counter.  “I’ll take it.  It’s all there.”

Golden coins glow in stacks of ten, with the imprimatur of Caesar.
He simply had to bring this out.  It was the only way to please her.
The transaction now completed. He nods.  She wraps the jar.
She tucks it all safe in her robe.  He thanks his lucky star!
7
She leaves the shop.  The sun is up.  None guess the gift she carries.
A treasure in an earthen vessel! A vendor yells “Got berries?!”
But she goes home. She bides her time.  She plans and plots and schemes.
The moment that she’s planning for fills her thoughts and dreams.

Then, she hears – oh joy! – the Master will be reclining and dining near.
She discovers - to her wonderment - His love cast out her fear.
She fixes up her hair and she buys a special dress.
It’s at the home of Simon.  Yes, she does know his address.

The evening comes. She makes her way to the Master’s beautiful feet.
SMASH!  That jar, now shattered! Get a whiff of the myrrh soaked sheet!
Her tears drip down upon His toes.  His ankles get kisses discrete.
At last…she has given Him her ALL.  Her gratitude, now, complete.



+++++

What follows is the prose version of the story, transcribed from a sermon by John McVay, using material from Roger Bothwell.  It is the story on which the above poem was written.

+++++++

The Alabaster Disaster
Introduction Story, from a sermon by Dr. John McVay
An adaptation from a sermon by Dr. Roger Bothwell
Used September 27, 2008  by Elder O. Kris Widmer at Redding, CA
…and again later at Antioch, CA





She moves carefully, almost suspiciously, through the growing light of dawn chasing early morning shadows as they flee narrow streets.  She has walked streets before...but not in this part of town.  She had been a lady of the night...now she is a woman of the day.  Formerly, she would have be in bed all night, but not wink of sleep.  In her former life, she would be just ending her long night of work in these dawning hours...just about now... but she is no longer a hopeless whore.  She has stepped out of the darkness...into the light.

Her steps seem, at once, determined and hesitant. We catch a glimpse of her face now and again through her long shawl and we see the face of an attractive, even a beautiful woman.  Her face, though, is marked by more trauma than time, more yearning than years. The first rays of the morning sun strike the tops of the olive trees and cue the songbirds.  They begin to sing and she becomes more serious in her search.  She stops, reads a sign on one establishment.  She moves down the street a bit and pauses at another.

Finally, she seems to find what she is looking for.  She opens the door in a specific shop, she enters and she moves up to the counter. There on the counter is a large brightly polished brass bell with a thick leather handle.  She reaches out for the handle and pauses and waits for a moment, thinking the shopkeeper might appear.  He doesn’t, and so she does finally reach out and takes the big bell and rings it ever so gently.

And, out from the back of the shop bustles the shopkeeper, cheerful and rotund.  In this part of the world, the first transaction of the day matters a great deal and he is hopeful that it will be as large as it is early.  And so he bustles forth.  His ebullient joy gets a little sidetracked as he looks across the counter and sees a woman dressed in very plain peasant garb.  But, he summons his courage and decides to make the best of it, steps up and says, “Ma’am, how are you this beautiful morning?  It is delightful to have you in my shop, what can I do for you?”

“I’d like to buy some perfume.” 

“Oh, well, Ma’am, if perfume is what you need, you have come to the right place.”  

ONE.  He reaches beneath the counter and he pulls out a small wooden box and places it on the counter for her and begins to describe its qualities. 

“Ma’am, in this small wooden box there is the essence of crushed rose petals, harvested from the banks of the Jordan River.  It is a lovely scent.  Please enjoy.” 

She reaches forward, carefully takes the little box, removes the top, wafts the aroma toward her, enjoys it for a moment, sets it back down, puts the top back on the box and asks, “How much is it?” 

“Oh, Ma’am, for you, today, because the sun is shining; because my mother-in-law has gone to Jericho, for you today, today, special price, five dollars.”

She holds his gaze and asks, “Do you have something a bit more expensive?”

TWO:  Oh, he hadn’t expected this, looking at this woman, but he puts the small wooden box beneath the counter and this time he brings out a plain metal box.  And he begins to describe it to the woman. 

“Ma’am, this understated, but beautiful metal box contains an infusion of iris imported all the way form Damascus, in Syria.  It is a wondrous scent.  Please enjoy.” 

And she does so.  She pulls the little box toward herself.  She takes the top off, she wafts the aroma toward her and she luxuriates in it for a moment.  She puts the top back on the box and moves it a little towards the shopkeeper and asks, “Sir, how much is it?”


“Ma’am, you understand that ours it the finest perfume shop in the land, and you understand that our merchandise is manufactured and imported at great expense.  You did ask for something more expensive.  Ma’am, for you, today, I will sell you this lovely box for 100 dollars.” 

He reaches forward knowing what will happen next, knowing that he will take this metal box, put it back beneath the counter, and he will take out that small five dollar wooden box.  It will look better to her now, and she will purchase that one.  And so he reaches forward. He takes the box, that plain metal box and is putting it beneath the counter when she asks, “Sir, do you have something just a bit more expensive?” 

THREE:  Something begins to get worrisome at this point.  He’s growing a little uneasy about this transaction, but he is being sucked into the vortex of this drama that is unfolding before his counter and so he reaches beneath his counter and pulls out a silver box, with a little clasp. Ever so carefully, he places it there and begins to describe it. 

“Ma’am, you did ask for something more expensive and more expensive this is.  This box comes to us from Arabia.  It comes by camel caravan.  Inside is an ancient formula, a mixture of balsam and cardamom.  It is the gift, Ma’am, of a lord for his lady.”

She looks at the shopkeeper for permission.  He nods.  She reaches forward.  She takes the beautifully tooled silver box with the little clasp.  She opens the clasp and moves the top back, and wafts the wondrous ancient formula toward her, luxuriates in it for a moment, puts the top back, holds the shopkeepers gaze and asks, “Sir, how much is it?”

“Ma’am, for you today, 1000 dollars.”

She takes her fingers and stirs within the folds of her garment and the shopkeeper can hear coins clanking against one another.  She removes her hand and holds his gaze and asks, “I have a bit more money than that, is it possible that you have something a bit more expensive?” 

FOUR: At this point, risk management issues come to mind, the keeper is concerned about security, and so he asks, “Ma’am are you sure you have money?” 

“Yes, I have money.” 

And so he bustles from behind the counter.  He goes and opens the door, looks both ways down the street, and then he double locks the door, and he moves back around the counter.  He notices that his palms are going clammy. “Ma’am, I have another treasure, it will take me a moment.” 

So, he goes into the back of his shop and he brings out something in a wonderful piece of fine linen and sets it on the counter.  He opens the linen, and there it is, a thing of true beauty, a beautiful gold vase. Pure symmetry and loveliness, gold.  It has a wonderfully tooled stopper and this time he reaches forward and removes the stopper, wafts the aroma toward her and she enjoys it for a moment as he explains that it is imported from Rome, from the banks of the Tiber River.

“It is the extract and the essence of saffron and cinnamon.  It is the gift of a king for his queen.”

“How much is it?” 

“For you today, Ma’am, 2500 dollars.” 

His blood pressure increases yet more dramatically when she asks, “Do you have something just a bit more expensive?  I have to know, is this the best that your shop can offer?”

FIVE:  “Well Ma’am, I do, but you must understand that this final treasure represents most of the wealth of our family.  We have saved over years and years to possess this wondrous artifact.  You are alone?” 

“I am alone.” 

“You do have money?” 

“I have money.” 

“It will take me a few moments,” and he disappears yet again. 

When he reappears after some absence, he comes to the counter and he is carrying a beautiful piece of crushed velvet. He peels back the corners and there, standing like a starry galaxy against the black night sky, is a gorgeous alabaster jar of precious ointment.  With reverent tones he explains to the woman that this alabaster jar was imported from India.

“In it is myrrh with a hint of marjoram  It is the gift of an emperor for his empress.  It is an extravagant gift.  You cannot,” he says, “enjoy this scent.  For you see, once it is used, the jar is broken.  You cannot use part of this gift, you must use it all at once.” 

How much is this perfume?

Ma’am.  There is nothing finer in the entire Mediterranean coastlands.  I cannot let it let it leave my possession for anything less than 10,000 dollars.

He is stunned, as she reaches into the folds of her garments.  She collects the clinking coins hidden there.  She proceeds to count them out on the counter and place them in stacks of ten.  “I have enough I believe. I’ll take it.”

The transaction is completed. She looks at him.  He nods. She wraps up the treasure in the velvet and tucks it in the folds of her robe.  She slips out into the streets of the city.  No one, no one, would guess the treasure she holds.  She bides her time.  She plans and schemes, her reconnaissance is accurate and true.  She listens for reports on his itinerary and her moment finally comes.  



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