Can I be honest with you for a minute? When I first read of Jesus’ visit to the home of Martha and Mary, I agreed with Martha. I identify with her! After all, what more important guests could you have in your home than Jesus and His disciples. Breakout the fine china and linens; there are guests to impress!
But wait, to agree with Martha means I must disagree with Jesus! Well, I’m not going there, so, let’s dig deeper into Mary’s story. Perhaps she will teach you and me something about being a Mary in a Martha world.
In Luke 10:38-42, Mary of Bethany enters the story:
As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”
But the Lord said to her. “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” NLT
In John 11, though a message sent to Jesus by Martha and Mary, we learn that Lazarus, a dear friend of Jesus and brother to the sisters, is sick and dying. This gives us the knowledge that Jesus had an ongoing relationship with Martha and Mary. They were also His dear friends. They knew Him, not just of Him, but directly knew Him!
However, Jesus doesn’t arrive in Bethany until after His friend’s death. As He neared the town, Martha rushed out to meet Him, but Mary stayed home. Why did she stay home? Wouldn’t the proper thing be to meet Him just as Martha had done? Isn’t that what everyone would expect? Mary does go to meet Jesus, but only after she’s told that Jesus wants to see her.
At that point, John 11:29-31 tells us Mary didn’t hesitate. In fact, she ran out the door so quickly that the visitors there to comfort her followed her, thinking she was headed to Lazarus’ grave. When she saw Jesus, weeping she fell at His feet and stated:
“Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” John 11:32 NLT
Yet Mary would witness God’s glory on display when Jesus called Lazarus from the grave. John goes on to tell us that many of those with Mary believed in Jesus after witnessing this miracle.
Our last reference to Mary is found in three of the gospels: John 12, Mark 14, and Matthew 26. Six days before the beginning of Passover, Jesus arrives in Bethany again. Once again, Martha is serving, Lazarus is there among them, and Mary is again found at His feet. This time, however, Mary anoints Jesus with expensive perfume, wiping His feet with her hair. The overpowering, sweet, yet musky scent would have filled the home.
Of course, the disciples had something to say about her pouring an entire bottle of expensive perfume all over Jesus’ feet and head. To them it was wasteful. Judas Iscariot condemns the act by insinuating that there were better things that could have been done like selling it and raising money for the poor. Well, that sounds like a worthy cause, doesn’t it?
Why wouldn’t Mary do that instead? Why didn’t she check with everyone around her first to see if they agreed with her decision to anoint Jesus? After all, group approval sure can make things comfortable. But here again, Jesus hints that Mary has it right. In Mark 14: 6-9, Jesus replies to Judas:
“Leave her alone. Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to me? You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could and has anointed my body for burial ahead of time. I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.” NLT
So, let’s look at these three instances through the mindset of Mary.
Remember that first meal where she sat at Jesus’s feet instead of helping with the meal. Society, or those like Martha, would say her place was to help with tasks that needed to be done. According to BibleGateway.com commentary, “Mary sat at His feet as a disciple, eager to learn of His will and word.” Mary didn’t care what others thought. She loved learning from the Teacher more than being correct in the eyes of her neighbors, friends, or family. She was hungry for spiritual knowledge and went against societal norms in order to gain it.
Then, when Jesus came to town after Lazarus’ death, she stayed home. Here again, she doesn’t care what the societal rules were. She was grieving her brother, unconcerned about anyone else’s opinion. However, when Jesus calls for her, she runs to Him without hesitation. She is so faithful and gut wrenchingly honest with Him in her grief that the comforters also cry. Yet, even in her grief, she is obedient to Jesus and therefore witnesses her brother’s resurrection. And because many came with her, they too saw the miracle and believed. She literally brought people to Christ. Think about that!
Finally, at the meal before Passover, she gave Him the best of what she owned. In total devotion and gratefulness, she anointed Him with her own supply of expensive perfume. She wasn’t concerned if others thought the smell was too strong or the cost of the gift too high. She had done what she could to honor Him and the Lord was pleased.
You see, Mary shows us repeatedly that our relationship to Christ is to be above all else. She wasn’t lazy, resentful, selfish, or wasteful. She was not weighted down by the opinions of others. She shook them off. Mary knew there is only one thing, or rather one person, worth being concerned about – Jesus. And because she knew this truth, Mary was performing only for an audience of One. May you and I do the same.
Written by Rhonda Carlsen
Please note all scripture was taken from the NLT – New Living Translation
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.