Alabaster Flasks

Okay, I am going to be completely honest. The first time I heard this phrase, I had NO idea what it meant. What in the world is an ‘alabaster’? Well, never free dearest reader! Google definitions has come to the rescue! It is stated that alabaster is “a fine-grained, translucent form of gypsum, typically white, often carved into ornaments.”

Alright, now that we have that all cleared up, please grab your Bible and turn to Matthew 26 (or you can read below, but you can’t underline, highlight, and journal on this like you can in your OWN personal Bible!).

I want to look at one little section in this chapter: Matthew 26.6-13

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table.  And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

To give this section some context, this little get together is taking place right before the Passover. Jesus decides He wants to visit with some old pals and his faithful servant Mary joins in on this little hoo-rah. She even brings Jesus a little gift. Consider the same passage in John 12.1-8:

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

And Mark 14.3-9:

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her.But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me.She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

They all sound pretty similar don’t they?

So let’s talk about this little gift that Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, chooses to give Jesus. It’s an alabaster flask of oil (or nard, whichever is best for you to picture). She takes it and she shatters it at the feet of Jesus and blesses Him. Jesus says “this is a agriculture-blur-close-up-33783beautiful thing she has done for me”. So cool, this lady whose brother was raised from the dead by this Amazing, Miracle working Jesus makes this effort to anoint Jesus. We will talk more about the anointing part in a minute, but first, let’s hit pause on the scene of Mary and Jesus and discuss this alabaster flask…

So, a little bit of cultural history here… in these times, most people stored their expensive oils in these little flasks to protect them. However, if anyone wants to access the oils inside, the best way is to just break the flask. First, the flasks are super breakable as it is. Second, the flasks were sealed very tightly in order to keep the expensive oils from evaporating. This just proves how important and expensive these oils are!

It is also known and reported by many Biblical and theological scholars that these flasks of oils sometimes serve as a woman’s dowry or an inheritance from her father, or husband. They are typically saved for anointing deceased loved ones at funerals.

Okay, back to this scene of Mary and Jesus. Picture it in the moment. Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus lavishing this expensive oil on Him. And of course, these disciples decide to pipe up and show how compassionate they really are in that Mary could have sold the oil and given the money to the poor, not “waste” the oil on Jesus.

WOAH WOAH WOAH there disciples, do you really think she is “wasting” this oil on Jesus?

Obviously, because they made such a big deal over this, this alabaster flask of oil had some meaning to it. Clearly, it was expensive. It must have been a possession of Mary’s that was of great value. In fact, it could have been Mary’s only chance at getting married. It could have been saved for her dear brother’s funeral, but when Jesus performed the healing miracle and raised him from the dead, she didn’t need it anymore. Heck, she could have just been saving it in case she needed the finances from it later in life. But instead, she breaks it open and anoints Jesus with it. She gives up this “inheritance” or this “dowry”. She sacrifices this greatly valued treasure, all to show Jesus how much she truly loved Him. And, let’s be honest here, it showed how much she trusts Him too.

The Greek word for “anoint” is Chrio. It means to consecrate by anointing; especially to present someone as divinely-authorized. This meant that Mary got it. She understood who Jesus was/is. She found Him to be worthy enough of the most valuable thing she owned. Wow. That is just incredible.

And Jesus, He defended her. He loved every minute of it. He saw her true, genuine heart of adoration towards Him. Unlike the disciples, who let’s be honest, didn’t really care for the poor. They just wanted Jesus to be impressed.

What is also very interesting about this scene throughout the Gospels is that normally these oils are used for anointing loved ones at funerals. Well, Jesus, Himself, even states, “she has prepared me for my burial”.

Another crazy thing, a little blessing that Jesus gave her because of her large sacrifice and recognition of the worthiness of Jesus, is that Jesus said that “wherever the Gospel is preached throughout the whole world what she has done will also be told in memory of her”. Wow. Jesus wants the whole world to know of her actions in preparing Him for burial. Personally, I believe that Jesus wanted her to be an example of how we should respond in rendering our hearts to Him, completely.

I mean, this oil in this flask might have been everything to her. It may have been her future, her marriage, etc. But she didn’t care. She recognized that Jesus is so worthy He deserves her very best, even if it meant she would be without financial security or a spouse. Those things were nothing to her compared to what Christ meant to her.

Now here is where it gets personal. Here is where I am just praying that the Holy Spirit will pull a few cords in your own heart. What do you value the most? Is it your career? Your education? Family? Car? Relationship? Dreams, hopes, goals, and desires? What is it that you place so high on your list of importance that when it is messed with you feel like your life is spiraling downward?

Let me give you a personal example. Mine is education. I have always been told to get the college degree to make the big bucks and get a nice job with a rich husband to support my family and be happily ever after. So, I started my college career while I was still a junior in high school. I graduated with my associates degree before I got my high school diploma. Then, I completed a double major bachelors degree in just three years. Now, of course, I am taking the next step of higher education and pursuing a masters degree.

I love learning. I love writing papers. But in a sense, it is my security. It i my excuse to avoid being an “adult” and truly figuring out what I want to do with my life. But you know what? I never really handed this over to the Lord to allow Him to do with it as He pleases. I always planned it out. I always said “okay Lord, I will agree to be a missionary one day, but just after I finish my education”. Yet, the passion and desire to go to the nations burns within me like no other.

Now, is when Jesus is summoning me to sit at the bottom of His throne. He is inviting me to allow Him to have complete control over this area of my life. He is asking me to render my heart in a position of trust and assurance that He will bring my education to be when He desires and it will be good.

Friends, these things that you value the most, are you letting Jesus hold them completely? Are you allowing the Lord to direct your steps? Are you ready to trust Him with this area of your life? What are you willing to “waste” for the Lord?

Take a step forward and shatter the alabaster flask at His feet. Anoint Him in recognizing that He is worthy. He is worthy to have control over it all. He is worth breaking it for! He is worth the sacrifice. Just as Mary gave up this very valuable and expensive oil to worship Jesus, we can give up the things we place at high value and worship Him as well.

Who knows, maybe you’ll be called to drop out of college and go to the nations as a full-time missionary. You will never know until you break that flask for Jesus.

What is your alabaster flask that you are willing to break at Jesus’ feet?

Servant Leadership

Similar to my last post, this post is going to be for a specific school assignment. Although it is for an assignment, I think it is a great discussion among not only the social work community, but also the Christian community. So, here we go!

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When I say the word “leadership” what do you think of? What are the traits and characteristics that immediately pop into your mind? I usually think of the president of student council, the church board members, the principle of a school, the captains of sports teams, etc. The list could go on and on and on. Personally, I feel like leadership is an opportunity to show people you care. It is an opportunity to utilize your own giftings and skills to serve. Yes, that’s right, I said the “s” word.

I know the word “serve” is not the first thing that comes to mind when we hear leadership. Some of us might get the picture of a huge army being led by one single person. How could that one single person “serve” an army? It sounds impossible doesn’t it? But think about the concept of servant leadership… what does that look like to you?

To me, it looks like a leader stepping off of the stage for a moment to help a follower. It means having compassion for the people under you and being passionate about your leadership role. I mean, c’mon, who wants to be a “follower” under someone who is not really passionate about what they are doing? I had an experience with this once.

It was my second year of college and I was the action officer of our missions club on campus. My specific role was to plan events to do missions work on our campus and in the city surrounding the campus. I was under a particular leader, whom I adored, don’t get me wrong, but she was not as passionate about the club as a few other leaders and myself. It was very difficult to work with someone like this. There were a lot of tensions. And honestly, the club is no longer in existence (there are more factors to that).

As a student studying a subject I am extremely passionate about, I often think about how I want to be a leader in my future career. In my undergraduate studies I always thought being a leader in social work meant being the absolute best, all the time. I was the student that got assignments done when everyone else asked for a deadline. I was the student that made sure I understood my theories and aced every test I took. I met all the page count and source count requirements. I even participated in social work club as much as I could. I thought of myself as a leader.

But now that I am in graduate classes and even working in the field of social work, I am learning that leadership is so much more than that. Leadership is an opportunity to facilitate empowerment and encouragement among colleagues to help them do their best (that was such a “social worky” statement wasn’t it?!). Yes, being a leader is a chance to “shine” and show what you can do, but it’s not to be done in a selfish fashion.

One thing that we do not always realize is that there are different types of leadership. Peters (2018) shares a few of these different types of leadership: organizational, relational, and individual. I’ll let you use your imagination on how each are different. Personally, in the field of social work (as a student and looking towards my future career) my role is to be a competent leader, with empathy and passion, that works to serve not only my future clients, but also my colleagues.

It is crucial that if you are going to be a leader, you need to be an effective leader. Otherwise, your efforts are just wasted. Being an effective leader may mean accepting constructive criticism from those around you, taking on projects/tasks that aren’t so thrilling, and recognizing when it is your time to step down. In this profession (and in the Christian community) we are working with other professions (other religions). We encounter them on a day-to-day basis (i.e. medical staff, counselors, psychiatrists, police officers, lawyers, etc.). The actions we take as leaders in our community make impressions on those we interact with.

Just as we are “judging” the other professions to make sure they are doing their jobs right, other professions are doing the same of us. We are always being watched and critically analyzed. That is just another reason why it is important to make our leadership sound and effective.

Personally, I believe that to be an effective leader, the leader must make sure they are taking care of themselves. Effective leaders, desiring to serve, cannot truly be effective if they have no energy, motivational, or will to serve. Simply put, you cannot pour from an empty cup. This is a field where compassion fatigue is easier to accomplish then self-care. Do you practice self-care? Wait, do you know what self-care is?

I would describe self-care as caring for yourself. Yes, it’s that simply. So much of our time as professionals and leaders in this chaotic life is dedicated to meeting the needs of others. We deal with messy, fragile situations that take a lot of energy out of us in order to be effective. So, how do we fix our decrease in energy? By doing something for ourselves. I like to go for a walk, play tennis, play my guitars, nap, read, eat, nap in a hammock, etc. I have a never-ending list… Now, it’s time for you to make your list of self-care practices. It’s important to have these tricks in a bag so when you need to pull them out they are right there. I may not always have time to take a nap, but I can sit in my car waiting to see my next client and read a chapter of my favorite book. Here is a self-care starter kit to help you build your list of tricks! Feel free to comment your results!

Almost coupled with self-care is the ability to assume positive intent and recognize where you are on the mood elevator. This is crucial to being a good leader for several reasons. First, have you ever received a text message from someone and immediately thought the sender was being rude? Me too. Almost everyday. Now, texting is not the best form of communication, however in this developing world, some clients may not even want to talk on the phone, thus scheduling with them is done via text. Email is similar to this. We cannot assume that the senders meaning behind the message was to be rude. This would be assuming negative intent. In other words, their intentions were not to come off like a stone-cold, hot-headed, ungrateful individual. This article explains a little more about positive intent.

Assuming positive intent is also important because as a leader we never want to come 6a00d8341d883653ef0162fbd046b7970d-600wiacross as being offended. We never want to open the door for us to respond negatively either. Thus, recognizing where we fall on the mood elevator during these times is important. Check out the picture to the side. Let’s say you are a supervisor and you open up an email on a Monday morning from your newly hired social worker. You specifically hired this worker because you loved their positive attitude and how they always used exclamation points in their emails. This one did not. It also asked if you could privately meet with them. How do you respond?

You could get anxious because you don’t know what they want to talk to you about. You may even assume it is bad because of how the email was written. OR you can be optimistic and respond by saying, “Sure! Let me know when you are available this week!”

In my Professional Development class, we read an article about the five components of emotional intelligence. They are: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill. Basically, having these five pieces put together will help you to be an effective leader in social work practice. Unfortunately, it is not always that easy. We will not be able to “master” all of these components. And that’s okay!

Personally, I feel like I will struggle the most with self-awareness. It is not that I am self-aware, it’s that sometimes I am overly self-aware. I mean, to the point of being afraid I might offend someone if I make one little mistake. However, I know that as I continue on in my education I will learn how to cope with this challenge and be the best I can be for myself, clients, and colleagues.

So now you are probably thinking, okay so why are you sharing this on your faith-based blog? Because while this is for a social-work specific class, the implications can be applied to any profession. They are also very important to examine in our own faith walks. I purposefully made an effort to not mention Christianity, Biblical context, or Jesus as much as I could throughout the article because I wanted to challenge you to make those connections. If you want to have a discussion about it, I encourage you to comment!

It is important for MSW students (and anyone else) to be introduced to what leadership is because this is the point in our education where we really dive into the field of social work. It is no more generalist practice like we had in UG. The stakes are raised, more expectations are expected, and we are all being challenged into our own little unique leader-selves that will eventually go out and serve out communities and the world. Learning this now instead of during our first job after graduation will most likely get us the best first job after graduation because we will stand out in already being effective leaders.

While I enjoyed this class I took very much, just like anything else, improvements can be made. Throughout this course I was able to do a lot of self-assessments that helped me become more self-aware (hey, there’s that word again!). I was challenged in unique ways and inspired to be a better, effective leader. This course also touched on a variety of topics. However, it would have been really interesting to go more in-depth with all levels of social work (micro, mezzo, and macro) as well as spend more time looking at how to be a leader when working with other cultures.

The last thing I would like to share is a specific leadership model. This model is called the social change model of social work. Iachini, Cross, and Freedman (2015) find several values in three different categories that help social workers promote change. Individual values consist of consciousness of self (being aware of beliefs and strengths), congruence (aligning forms of communication), and commitment. In a group setting values are collaboration (working together to complete a task), common purpose, and controversy with civility (handling conflict well). Lastly, the one social value discussed is citizenship.

The things discussed in this post are specific things to help us better ourselves as leaders. Everyone every now and then needs to do a self-check. This is a great time to do that if you are already in a leadership position. If you are not in a leadership position but would like to be, this is a great way to start!

 

Iachini, A. L., Cross, T. P., & Freedman, D. A. (2015). Leadership in Social Work Education and the Social Change Model of Leadership. Social Work Education34(6), 650-665. doi:10.1080/02615479.2015.1025738

Peters, S. C. (2018). Defining social work leadership: a theoretical and conceptual review and analysis. Journal Of Social Work Practice32(1), 31-44. doi:10.1080/02650533.2017.1300877