Saturday, August 17, 2013

Study of Mary of Bethany

I have a heroine in the Bible, and that's Mary of Bethany. She is Lazarus' & Martha's sister. She's my "heroine", because I feel like I have a lot in common with her. We see her in Luke 10:38-42, when she's sitting at our Lord's feet and Martha is slaving away in the kitchen. Of course, Martha comes in wanting the Lord to rebuke her sister, when *she* is the one who ends up getting rebuked. I've always been somewhat of a dreamer, content to sit at the Lord's feet rather than slave away in the kitchen (or any other part of the house).

But as I was reading Scripture out of the book of John, I got a little insight that I'd never thought about before. It seemed to add another layer to her story, and brought it alive to me. I don't know if it was a revelation by the Spirit, or just my writer's heart "filling in the gaps", but just in case, use your discernment with my interpretation of her story.

When we first meet her, we realize that her place at Yeshua's feet is likely controversial. Even though He's sitting in her home, she's in a place usually reserved for disciples, and disciples of Rabbis in those days were men. But Christ lets her sit there and no one puts up a fuss.

I think Mary truly believed Christ was the Messiah. She (seemed) to be a dreamer, willing to forsake cooking (and likely cleaning) to sit at Yeshua's feet and learn of Him.

The siblings lived together, and I have always taken it to mean the women were never married and Lazarus took care of them. I've always viewed Martha as the older, more practical sister. Perhaps she'd been widowed. But because Mary (later in the story) has a flask of expensive perfume, I don't think she was ever married, as likely that was her dowry.

Sitting so close to Christ, it is obvious she greatly admired Him. Maybe even had a crush? Who knows what stars may have been before her eyes?

But in John 11, when Mary and Martha's brother Lazarus gets sick, they know Yeshua will come -- He's their good friend, and He heals the sick. He's even close by. He will come.

But for Christ's own purpose, He doesn't come "in time", and when He does come, Lazarus has been dead four days. We then see it is Martha who greets the Lord before He enters town. Mary does not. I've heard commentary that Martha is the more aggressive sister, and that Mary didn't come until Yeshua called to her. But... what if she was mad at Him?

She sat at His feet, she'd believed His words. She thought He was the Messiah, surely He would have known how poor her brother's health had suddenly become. But He hadn't come. Her heart was broken, not only because her brother died, but because the man she adored hadn't come through for her.

Likely with the death of their brother, the women were spun into a panic, wondering what they were going to do now? Mary had a flask of very expensive perfume. We learn (later in the story from Judas) that the perfume was worth a YEAR'S wage. It's likely the women, with no steady income now that Lazarus is dead, would have to sell the bottle, leaving Mary no dowry and no "wealth" with which to start a family.
What was the hope of her young life now? She'd have to sell her dowry to survive, and maybe no man would want her because she'd have nothing to give him.

Christ calls to her, and Martha goes to tell her. Mary doesn't hesitate -- she loves Yeshua after all -- and runs to meet Him, but only after He calls her. Maybe He does care. Maybe He will mourn with her. Maybe He will take care of her. Perhaps her future lies with Him.

But one look at Him and she collapses at His feet -- and here's where my heart broke in the story -- Christ becomes angry and troubled all of a sudden. Why? He knows Lazarus is dead -- He's God first of all, and Martha told Him second of all. But why was Mary's response to Him, weeping at His feet, that moved Him to act?

I believe He saw her heart -- and in her heart, where there once had been lofty dreams of Messiah, was now nothing but shards. Her faith was at an impasse. She knew He was the Messiah, but she felt betrayed and hurt that He hadn't come in time, that He thought less of her, that her hopes and dreams weren't important to Him.

I believe that is why He was overcome with emotion. He read her heart and decided to show her that wasn't the case at all. He had planned on raising Lazarus, that much is obvious, but now He was determined not only to resurrect His friend, but this woman's faith in Him as well.

When Lazarus was raised, Mary finally saw once and for all the power Christ had, and I believe that is the moment she believed He was God incarnate. This realization so overwhelmed her, that it drove her to do another shocking act but a few days later.

In John 12, we have the now-famous scene of Mary of Bethany anointing Christ's feet -- with the very same bottle of perfume that likely, she and Martha had been planning on selling after their brother's death. What had seemed hopeless a few days before, no future without her brother, no wealth for a family of her own, was now full of nothing BUT hope.

After the resurrection of her brother, Mary finally understood that in Christ, her future is secure. Material wealth no longer mattered, and He was the only One solely worthy of it all.

So she anointed Him with the perfume, which was everything she had to sacrifice, giving Christ the one (and only) anointing for His burial that He ever received. Perhaps it was an act of worship. Perhaps it was an act of repentance for doubting Him. Perhaps it was a sacrifice of praise. Perhaps it was done out of pure love. was all of the above.

But one thing was sure... Christ read her heart again, and understood her act for exactly what it was. She'd made her choice, and her choice was Him. She loved Him with everything inside of her, and needed to show Him. She did it the only way she knew how, not only anointing Him for His burial, but also accepting Him as her Bridegroom, as she gave Him her dowry.

No other earthly man would do. Her dowry was now unimportant. She gave herself 100% to Christ. It makes me tear up just thinking about it. Her story with Him is one of the greatest love stories in the Bible -- and it's all of our stories. He loves all of us in this way, and allows us to be so personal with Him. His heart burns when we are angry, hurt, disappointed... And He longs to make things right. He longs to be our One-and-Only.

I cannot wait to meet Mary of Bethany in Glory. I think we'd have a lot to talk about. The Lord loved her so much. He loves ME so much.

But that day so long ago when Lazarus came forth, Christ became Mary's Hero, her Knight in Shining Armor, Her Lion of Judah, Her Beloved. From sitting at His feet, she knew His mission and what He'd come to do. But in that moment, she betrothed herself to Him.

I can't think of a single act of unselfish love in all the Gospels that likely touched Him more than that.

Interestingly enough, I found a parallel verse that seems to refer to Mary's devotion in Song of Solomon.  Considering my studies of Songs and Proverbs, this deeply intrigued me.  Mary's perfume was spikenard.

John 12:1-3 says:

Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead.
There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him.
Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.

The parallel verse in Songs 1:12 says:

While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof.

I honestly believe this little verse in Songs is a prophecy of Mary's act, as the spikenard isn't the king's perfume, but "my" spikenard, meaning the spouse, the lily, the dove.  It doesn't specifically mention anointing the king with the perfume, but it does mention the smell, which John also records, while the king reclines at the table.  Amazing!

This parallel means Mary of Bethany is a type of the Church, as Song of Solomon is allegory between the Bridegroom and His Bride.  We should all take a lesson from her and betroth ourselves to Christ with every ounce of our devotion.

Praise the Lord.



  1. Wow! This is so beautiful. I have always loved Mary, but this has just opened my eyes to her feelings. The parallel verse is amazing. I am so glad I found this blog. Thank you!

  2. Thank you so much for this piece. Really insightful.
    I'm writing a curriculum on gender & the church and I wanted to include Mary of Bethany's acts of discipleship -sitting at Jesus' feet to learn and breaking her dowry (i.e. whoever loses their life will find it). Did you find those interpretations in a study Bible or what was their source? Thanks!

  3. I'm glad you enjoyed my study! I've always been fascinated with Mary of Bethany because I think she and I are similar in a lot of ways. This study came about through my own prayer and study with the Holy Spirit, so I suppose He is their source. I have no idea if these events are "true", but by judging her behavior regarding Christ and the death of her brother, it seems the most likely scenario to me.