Of all the stories about women in the Bible, I personally think Mary of Bethany’s story is the most beautiful expression of intimate love for God in the form of Christ. Parts of Mary’s story are found in all four gospel accounts – Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:1-9, Luke 10:38-40 and John 11:1-12:3.
You may know Mary’s story best as the story of Mary and her sister Martha. The Lord was visiting their home. While Martha was busy getting everything ready to serve Jesus and his disciples, Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to what He had to say. Martha became frustrated and demanded that Jesus tell Mary to help her. There are things to be learned from both Mary and Martha, but for now we’ll just focus on Mary.
We should know a few things regarding the details of Mary’s encounters with Jesus:
- Mary’s first encounter with Jesus, as far as we can tell, is the story above. This story is from Luke 10:38-40. This is the Mary/Martha story we’re familiar with.
- The Gospel of John gives a little background on this encounter. The situation that led Jesus and the disciples to be guests in Mary’s home was the death of Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead.
- The second encounter Mary has with Jesus is another story you might be familiar with. Remember the mystery woman who broke the expensive jar of perfume, anointed Jesus with it and then wiped His feet with her hair? The Gospel of John tells us that woman was Mary of Bethany.
Mary of Bethany’s encounters with Jesus show us she must have been a very observant woman. It was very out of place for Mary to sit at Jesus’ feet to listen instead of getting the house in shape for guests. Think about the last time there were guests at your house. Did your mother sit down to relax or was she up and about cooking, cleaning, and serving?
When guests arrive at our homes, we want to show them a nice time and we do everything we can to make their time with us comfortable and fun. That is what Martha was doing and what Mary usually helped her with. This time, however, Mary recognized the Lord as more than just a teacher; she recognized Him as someone that her heart desperately wanted to spend time with, so she abandoned everything else to hear His voice and gaze on His face.
The second thing Mary observed is the pain and anxiety of Jesus in the week leading up to His crucifixion. The Bible tells us in Matthew, Mark and John that a week before His crucifixion, Jesus was dining at the home of Simon of Bethany. During the meal, a woman, Mary, entered and broke open an expensive jar of perfume with which she anointed Jesus and then wiped His feet with her hair. I believe she did this because she was prompted to by the Holy Spirit, but that’s only my personal opinion.
We often don’t realize what a scandalous act this was. Mary, a woman, entered a house where men were dining without an invitation (considered highly inappropriate). She “wasted” a jar of super expensive perfume (wasteful). She uncovered her head (scandalous because a woman’s hair could cause lustful thoughts in men). Then she wiped the dirt and dust (there would’ve been a lot of that because Jesus walked everywhere in sandals) off His feet with her hair!
Jesus makes it clear that Mary is anointing His body for burial, so it’s likely that Mary was very emotional during this encounter–she was “making a scene,” yet another thing the men would’ve considered inappropriate.
Mary of Bethany teaches us to have a scandalous love for Jesus that the rest of world might think is totally inappropriate! From the moment we enter a church, we’re taught how to respond to God, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Mary was taught how to behave properly and knew the customs of her people, but when it came to Jesus, she just didn’t care what anyone else thought of her behavior. Mary loved Jesus with a scandalous love and Jesus defended her for it, twice.
Can we learn from Mary’s example and love Jesus so much that other people think we’re crazy? I hope so.
But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me…Truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her’ (Mark 14:6, 9).