There are several expressions that show that the gift made by Mary was very costly. First it is said that it came in an “alabaster box.” The Greek word so translated denotes, according to Liddell and Scott, a “globular vase without handles for holding perfumes, often made of alabaster.” Such a container was itself costly whether made of alabaster or not, and thus it was only in use for holding perfumes that were of value. Evidently it was sealed, for Mark tells us that she broke the box to pour its contents over the Masters head. The gift was costly, but it was given without stint. The broken vase is symbolic of many things: of the wholeheartedness of the gift and its irrevocability, and of the fact that suffering even to the point of breaking is sometimes the way in which the purest fragrance is released in life.
Jesus went on to say that the poor are always there to be attended to, which ought not to be understood as taking lightly the duty of almsgiving, as when one says, “The poor will still be there tomorrow” and puts off the duty of giving.
Jesus was plain and positive on many occasions that the duty of ministering to the poor is not something to be neglected. But here He is pointing out that we should not allow those duties which are always with us, and which can be attended to at anytime, to interfere with our grasping the opportunity for some special piece of service which will not always be possible.
On this occasion Mary could perform her beautiful action, but it would not be possible for her to do so even a little later.