MARY OF BETHANY: The Woman Who Boldly Chose Jesus | Lenten Devotional, 3/18/21
Introduction | We are walking together through the Church season of Lent. Lent, which means “springtime or renewal,” began to be observed by the Body of Christ sometime during the 4th century. Lent spans forty days (not counting Sundays) modeled after Jesus’ time fasting in the wilderness before beginning his earthly ministry. Lent is a sacred time of remembrance, renewal, and spiritual preparation in our journey of faith with Jesus.
Over these next few weeks of Lent we invite you to take up the practice of reading and reflecting on the women who first followed Jesus. We all know that the four gospels emphasize the twelve disciples whom Jesus called to “Come and see.” But several women also follow Jesus as he teaches, heals, offers miraculous signs, and purposefully makes his way towards first, offering himself on a Cross, but ultimately rising to a life beyond death.
Each week, we will look more closely at one of these women so we can better appreciate what they each saw in Jesus and how they learned to follow his lead with their lives. Each Tuesday, I’ll provide an overview and some brief reflection on the life of each of these women. On Thursday, a female member of our staff will offer their thoughts. Each Saturday, I will provide a Lectio Divina prayer exercise so that we can reflect more deeply in the Spirit in terms of each week’s devotional theme and focus.
Reflection | Throughout the years, we re-read through the Gospels and hear the familiar stories of Christ’s ministry leading up to his death and Resurrection. In the process of reading the same scripture repeatedly we can fall into the trap of thinking we know everything that has been accounted for. We think we have the full picture of who Jesus is, since we have the written accounts of what happened after the fact, unlike the followers of his time who approached the Cross and Resurrection without knowing what was happening. We live in the glow of hindsight, but at the same time, we are just like the disciples, living in a state of continuous learning from our Savior.
The very beauty of scripture is that we can read the same verses again and again and each time we learn more about who God is and draw closer in our :relationship with God. The very first words of John’s Gospel are, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word of God is living, breathing, and active in our lives every day. It is the very reason we continue to dive into the Word, to connect with God through scripture, because scripture is where God speaks to us, intercedes on our behalf, and draws near to us.
As I looked at the Gospel accounts of Mary of Bethany and Jesus, I realized we can still have faithful discipleship that reflects who he is over how much we know. I see Mary humbled at the feet of Jesus, listening to his every word, and I think: “is that how I am when I read the Bible? Do I hang on the very words given to us to continue to build in us a connection with God, a direction toward our Lord rather than away?” We do not have to wait to be with Jesus, physically in the same room, to be in the presence of Jesus. We can kneel, just as Mary did, before our Teacher, our Rabbi, when we draw near through the Word. When our minds and hearts are transformed and renewed by scripture, when our prayers are motivated out of the truth of scripture, when we cling to scripture in all seasons of life – we are doing so WITH Jesus. I have direct access to Jesus, but does that accessibility and familiarity make me less likely to react to Jesus as Mary did? Do I take for granted the direct access given to us by Jesus, through his word and Holy Spirit?
The visual of Mary anointing Jesus is so profound to me as it is emotional. We have no proof that Mary fully understood the foreshadowing she was doing when she was anointing Jesus before his death and Resurrection. Yet she honors the Messiah, the Jesus she has come to know, love, and be loved by, in this sacred and beautiful moment. Mary boldly chooses Jesus in this moment. While some scholars have stated her previous moment of sitting at the feet of Jesus demonstrates the submissiveness of traditional female roles, I argue both her sitting at his feet and her anointing of him are bold moves. Her actions go against what society and the religious leaders of the time deemed to be correct, appropriate, and acceptable. Mary reflects the bold impact that Jesus had on her discipleship because Jesus confronted the same norms of the time boldly, so boldly that it caused the leaders to conspire for his death! Jesus did not come to reinforce the lives that these people were already living, he came so that they may have “new life”. 2 Corinthians 5:17-19 gives us the perspective of this new life, “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…” In order for us to be reconciled, Jesus challenged the status quo, he went against what everyone thought they knew during that time, and he does so even now. The “new creation” that paved the way to “new life” is through him and nothing else. No worldly expectations, rules, or social structure.
Mary knew this through her experiences with Jesus, and that is why she, a woman, sat at the feet of her teacher. Mary, a woman so overcome by the transformative power of Christ, that she anointed his very feet with all she had to offer and wiped his feet with her hair. The image of this woman, using all her jar of expensive ointment, that possibly could have been part of her dowry, shows me the devotion and trust she had in Jesus. The same trust and devotion are reflected in the image of her with her hair down wiping Jesus’ feet, which during that time to have her hair down in front of men would not be acceptable. She uses her symbols of her beauty, her value, everything she has to offer, to honor Jesus. Mary is not held back by what man declares in these moments, she is whole-heartedly leaning into Jesus and who he is – to her and the rest of the world. Even before realizing it, she was showing how to live a life that reflects the sacrifice of self for the One who sacrifices himself for us.
Mary reminds me that even when the world tries to define me, that the only person who defines me is Jesus. I think of Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Mary did not conform to what was acceptable for her as a woman, as a follower of Jesus. She did not allow the world, societal expectations, to hold her back from her devotion to Jesus. Her moments with Jesus are not forgotten, just as he said they would not be, because they point to so much more than a single moment in scripture; they point to the One who is everything to us.
Mary shows us that discipleship is not having all the answers, nor is it fully understanding everything before us. Sometimes acting is enough. She shows us that following Jesus is having the heart to look to the One who is the answer…the one who is our anointed King, Savior, and Everlasting Life. She reveals the nature of humility and trust necessary for discipleship, in contrast to many of the responses of Jesus’ chosen twelve, as well as the religious leaders of the time. She humbly and wholly looked to Jesus with honor and love. May we look at scripture this Lenten season and beyond, with fresh eyes and willing hearts, even as we look at the same stories and the same words. Do not let hindsight of the events of Holy Week, steal from you precious and sacred time in the presence of the Word, of our Savior. Amen.
Consider & Discuss | Are there times where you feel disconnected from scripture because you have read the same thing before? Are there times you miss seeing more to scripture due to what you have learned before about it?
How can you connect with scripture fresh each time? Are you connecting with God’s Word regularly? Are there some habits you can work on to make reading scripture more than just a task on your checklist? Is there someone or something that can be a helpful resource to make you feel more comfortable approaching God’s Word? Reach out and try those resources.
Do you see your relationship with Jesus grow through scripture?
Prayer Focus | Read the following Scripture from Philippians 4:4-7 and pray through it considering this devotional:
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Come, Lord Jesus, come!