I recently saw a photograph of a broken pot that had been mended using the kintsukuroi method. Kintsukuroi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold or silver lacquer. It enshrines the belief that the piece in question can actually be made even more beautiful for having been broken. I am used to mending broken pots – my mother-in-law is a potter and our large garden is full of her creations that sometimes get broken by either the elements or wild animals. I have become an expert in the use of ‘super glue’ … but none of my repaired broken pots are as magnificent as those put back together again with the use of kintsukuroi.
There is a story in the Bible – a story concerning an incident that occurred towards the end of Jesus’ earthly life, shortly before his arrest, trial, crucifixion and death – involving a broken jar and a broken woman, and something very wonderful about the way in which Jesus fixes broken people. The incident was obviously so intriguing that each of the four Gospel Writers has a version of it (Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:37,38; John 12:1-8), although there is some debate as to whether or not there are actually two similar incidents referred to rather than just the one?
Jesus and his disciples had been invited to a meal at the home of a Pharisee, Simon the Leper – probably a well-known victim of leprosy who possibly had been healed by Jesus at some time or other. Whilst they are enjoying their meal the dinner party is gate-crashed by a woman. Luke tells us that she was a ‘woman who had lived a sinful life’ (Luke 7:37). This is code language for someone who had earned her living as a prostitute. There is some speculation as to who this particular woman actually was? John tells us that her name was ‘Mary’ leading to speculation (since the meal was in Bethany and Martha was the cook) that she was Mary of Bethany or Mary Magdalene or even that they were one and the same? It is suggested that Mary Magdalene was formerly a prostitute until her life was transformed after an encounter with Jesus. We certainly know that she had serious problems. We are told that Jesus delivered her from demonic influence (Mark 18:9; Luke 8:2) which at the very least is indicative of a set of complex illnesses and possibly more.
Having gate-crashed the party this woman does something both extraordinary and immensely significant. She produces a small but very expensive alabaster jar containing an equally expensive perfume called nard (Mark 14:3) and then proceeds to break the neck of the expensive jar and anoint Jesus with the equally expensive perfume. The alabaster jar containing the nard would have been a sealed unit so that the only way to release the perfume would have been to break the neck of the jar. The jar and its contents would have been very precious to the woman not just in terms of monetary value but sentimental value as well since it was most probably a family heirloom passed down the generations. But for the perfume to be released it was necessary for the jar to be broken.
This extravagant gesture was highly significant not only because, coming as it did so close to Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion, it was indicative (as was the gift of myrrh by the Magi at Jesus’ birth) of his sacrificial death on the behalf of sinful people such as ourselves, but for all that it testified to concerning the woman herself. Here was a woman who’s life had been broken, for one reason or another, and yet she was at one and the same time someone who’s life, through the touch of Jesus Christ, had been enabled to release something beautiful and fragrant into the world as a result of that brokenness! We do not know if that brokenness was initially self-inflicted or as a result of damage done to her by others. We do not know if her ‘demons’ came from within or without or both? What we do know is that this extravagant gesture was symbolic of all that had happened in her own life. She had been broken but Jesus had fixed her, and despite her brokenness – perhaps even as a result of her brokenness – something even more beautiful and fragrant and valuable had been released into the world, rather like a kintsukuroi pot!
All of us, in one way or another, are ‘damaged goods’. Perhaps the most damaged of all are the people who don’t think they are damaged?! Some of us have been seriously ‘broken’ at some time in our lives – broken health, a broken relationship, a broken marriage, a broken heart, broken in spirit, and so on. Sometimes this damage has been self-inflicted, and sometimes it has been inflicted upon us by others, or even just by an unfortunate set of circumstances in which we have found ourselves at the time? Sometimes our ‘demons’ have risen from within, and sometimes they have afflicted us from without like those ‘fiery darts’ the Apostle Paul warns us of in his Letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 6:16). Most of us are all too aware of our imperfections and we do not need to be continually reminded of them by the church or anyone else for that matter? What we really need to know is, ‘Is our brokenness terminal … or can we be mended?’
The great message of this particular story is that with God there is always a way out, always a way back, always a way up! Even if we are seriously ‘broken’ – whether through our own fault or the fault of others – we can not only be ‘fixed’ but actually be made even more beautiful, even more fragrant, even more valuable, for having been broken in the first place … just like a kintsukuroi pot!
Beauty for brokenness
Hope for despair
Lord, in your suffering
This is our prayer
~ Graham Kendrick