Brave Women of the Bible, Mary of Bethany

Happy Holy Week. I’m sure for you as for me this is not like any Holy week we’ve ever had. My church’s Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services will be done via Zoom and Livestream. Many of us won’t see family on Sunday, except those we live with. Big meals and Easter egg hunts will look different. I won’t have to make devil eggs. For many there won’t be an Easter as they’re fighting for their lives at home or in the hospital. Some of us will be at work on Easter. All this change can make us feel a little more isolated, a little more lonely. But I think it will feel closer to that actual week that happened so long ago.

John 12:1 says that 6 days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany to the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. By my calculations I think that would have been today, Monday So I thought it fitting to talk about Mary of Bethany.

Mary, the sister of Martha, loved, I mean LOVED Jesus. When we are first introduced to Mary in Luke Chapter 10, Mary sits at Jesus’s feet while he is teaching while her sister Martha is distracted and busy with her serving responsibilities. Martha scolds Mary to get up and help her but Jesus replies, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered and anxious about so many things, but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part (that which is to her advantage) which will not be taken away from her, ” (verses 41-42 AMP)

Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus. Mary was sitting, with the rest of the disciples, and her brother, who are men, listening to Jesus teach. In the Jewish culture of that time a woman was not supposed to study under a rabbi. But Jesus allowed her, invited her and then defended her when her sister scolded her.

Mary knew the social cues of her time. She knew she was doing something society said she shouldn’t. But she did it anyway. Her sister was doing more than just scolding her. She was probably trying to be a good big sister and reinstate the social norm. Protect Mary from any other ramifications of her sitting and listening to the rabbi. Mary was brave. She stepped out of the social norm for something better and Jesus protected and defended her in her stepping out. How comforting to know that when God invites us to step out of our own comfort zones He will be there protecting and defending us.

The next time we see Mary her brother Lazarus has died. Martha left the home and ran ahead to meet Jesus on his way to Bethany.  Martha says to Jesus when she meets him, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died. Even no I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give to you.” John 11:21-23

Jesus then tells her that her brother will rise from the dead. Martha says she knows that Lazarus will rise from the dead in resurrection on the last day. “Jesus says to her, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in (adheres to, trusts in, relies on) me (as savior) will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me (as savior) will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-27. Martha replies “Yes Lord, I have believed and continue to believe that you are the Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed, ) The son of God.”  She then went home to Mary and told Mary that Jesus had come and wanted to see her. Mary quickly went to Jesus.

Jesus had not yet entered Bethany when Mary met him. When Mary saw Jesus she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (verse 32). Jesus looked around and saw her sobbing and a group of Jewish friends surrounding her weeping. He was deeply moved and then Jesus, the Son of God, wept.

Jesus loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus. He saw how broken his friends and their family and friends were and he wept. Many of us are broken right now. We’ve lost family, friends, we know someone who’s lost someone or who is sick. I know I have wept. I believe right now Jesus’s is weeping. I believe he is sobbing over all of us. I believe is waiting, wanting to raise some of us from our deadened hearts, from our sick beds. I pray he rises us.

Mary again was unafraid to loose composure in front of her Lord. Her Lord had come again to her rescue but first he loved her enough to weep with her in her loss.

Which brings us to six days before Passover and Jesus is traveling to Bethany, two miles from Jerusalem again to Martha’s home. That evening Mary brought out costly perfume made from pure nard. It could have been the same perfume she had buried her brother Lazarus in.  She opened the alabaster jar and knelt before Jesus. Without words she untied her hair, poured the oil over His feet and legs and wiped it up with her hair.

Mary gave her greatest devotion and form of worship to Jesus in this act. She knew the perfume was costly, she and her sister probably paid for it when her brother had died. The Youversion Devotional “Alabaster Jar” by Tearfund explains that Jewish women kept their hair tied up and covered. The only person who could see a woman’s hair uncovered was her husband.  This act of untying her hair in the presence of Jesus and all his disciples was like she was saying “Jesus is like my husband.” It also says that Mary as she performed this anointment. Mary again poured herself out to her Lord, uncaring of the cultural rules she was breaking she bravely let the whole room and world know how much Jesus meant to her.

Again she was scolded for her act of love. Judas scolds her for wasting the perfume saying it could be sold for 300 denarii and the money given to the poor (John 12 verse 4-6) Again Jesus comes to her defense. “Let her alone, so that she may keep (the rest of) it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” (verses 7-8).

Friends we cannot be afraid to cross our cultural norms to show the love of Jesus. We cannot be afraid to step out of our comfort zones to share encouragement, show love, help when help is needed. God will and does call us to do this. Right now we are tucked into our homes where many of us cannot physically reach out to others. But God is calling us out in different ways. Look at your circle there are people in it that need to hear God loves them, Christian and non-Christian. There are people in it that need hope right now. Be the light. Don’t be afraid to shine.

I highly recommend the five day study in YouVersion “Alabastar Jar” if you would like to study Mary of Bethany on your own. If you would like prayer please post it in the comments below. I’d love to pray for you.


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