Women of the Bible - Monday, November 11, 2013

Mary of Bethany

Her name means: "Bitterness"

Her character: Mary appears to have been a single woman, totally devoted to Jesus. The gospel portrays her, by way of contrast with her sister, Martha, as a woman of few words. As Jesus neared the time of his triumphal entry into Jerusalem prior to Passover, she performed a gesture of great prophetic significance, one that offended Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus.
Her sorrow: She wept at the tomb of her brother, Lazarus, and must have experienced great sorrow at the death of Jesus.
Her joy: To have done something beautiful for Christ.
Key Scriptures: Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 10:38-42; John 11:1-12:11

Her Story

Jerusalem was swollen with a hundred thousand worshipers, pilgrims who had come to celebrate the annual Passover feast. Every one of them, it seemed, had heard tales of the rabbi Jesus.

"I wouldn't have believed it myself if I hadn't been there," one man exclaimed. "I tell you, Lazarus drew his last breath a full four days before the Nazarene ever arrived."

"My cousin saw the whole thing," said another. "According to her, Jesus simply shouted his name and Lazarus came out of the tomb, still bound in his grave clothes."

"I hear the rabbi is coming to Jerusalem to be crowned king during Passover," said the first man.

"Better if he stayed home," said another. "The chief priests say the whole story is nonsense, that Jesus is a rabble-rouser who'll soon have the Romans up in arms against us all."

The rumors spread quickly, like floodwater spilling over a riverbank. The curious kept chasing after Mary, inquiring about her brother. Had he really been dead four days? Didn't he smell when he came stumbling out of the tomb? What was it like to live in the same house with a ghost? Did he eat and sleep? Could you see straight through him? Did he simply float through the air wherever he went?

She could hardly blame them for their crazy questions. Why shouldn't they be curious about the amazing event that had taken place in Bethany just weeks earlier? How could they know that Lazarus was as normal as any other living man? After all, raising people from the dead wasn't your everyday kind of miracle. These days she felt a rush of joy run through her, like wine overflowing a cup, whenever she looked at Lazarus. Her own flesh and blood had been called out of darkness by a man who was filled with light. How she longed to see Jesus again!

But shadows framed the edges of her happiness. No amount of celebrating could erase the memory of Jesus as he wept that day outside her brother's tomb. Even as others were celebrating the most spectacular miracle imaginable, he seemed strangely quiet. What was he thinking as he gazed at them? she wondered. She wished he would tell her, that she could plumb the secrets of his heart.

When Jesus finally returned to Bethany before the Passover, Martha served a feast in his honor. As Jesus was reclining at table with the other guests, Mary entered the room and anointed his head with a pint of expensive perfume. Its fragrance filled the whole house.

The disciple Judas Iscariot, failing to appreciate her gesture, objected strenuously: "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages." Though he cared nothing for the destitute, Judas was the keeper of the common purse, a man always looking for a chance to fatten his own pockets.

But rather than scolding Mary for her extravagance, Jesus praised her, saying: "Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, whenever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her."

From her first encounter with Christ, Mary seems to have pursued one thing above all—the deepest possible relationship with him. She soaked up his teaching, took his promises to heart, listened for every change of inflection that would yield more clues about him. Love gave her insights that others missed. Somehow, she must have understood that Jesus would not enter Jerusalem to lasting acclaim but to death and dishonor. For a time, the light itself would appear to be smothered by the darkness. While everyone else was busy celebrating Jesus' triumph in raising Lazarus, Mary stood quietly beside him, sharing his grief.

Christ found Mary's extravagant act of adoration a beautiful thing, assuring everyone that she would be remembered forever for the way she lavished herself upon him. Mary of Bethany was a woman unafraid of expressing her love, determined to seek the heart of God—a prophetess whose gesture speaks eloquently even from a distance of two thousand years.

Her Promise

The Old Testament Passover lamb was only a shadow of what was to come. As our Passover Lamb, Jesus has completely and thoroughly accomplished our redemption from sin. Just as the little lamb died so that the firstborn in the Hebrew families would not die and would go free from Egypt, so Jesus, our Passover Lamb, has died so that we can be freed from our slavery to sin.

This devotional is drawn from Women of the Bible: A One-Year Devotional Study of Women in Scripture by Ann Spangler and Jean Syswerda. Used with permission.

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