Monday, January 23, 2012

Sluts, Schemers, And Other Shockingly Interesting Women Of The Bible #6 – Mary of Bethany

Disclaimer: I am doing this as a way to share what I learn about these gals. I’m not saying what I discover and write about here is the absolute truth about them. I’m not thinking I’m going to discover some revolutionary truth that nobody’s heard before, nor am I looking to start legalistic fights. This is more about me being curious and wanting to learn more about these gals, and saying “Here’s what I learned in my Bible readings today!”

Which One Is She?

There’s a bunch of Marys running around the Bible, so you’re forgiven if you sometimes mix them up. The following are all different Marys and not the same person:

1. Mary, Jesus’ Mother, the Virgin Mary

2. Mary Magdalene (not a prostitute as most commonly think)

3. Mary, mother of John Mark, the apostle.

4. Mary, wife of Clopas, mother of apostles James and Joseph, and Jesus’ Mother’s “Sister.” (Quotes are there because the Greek word for “sister” could also be translated as “cousin,” “aunt” , “niece” or other female relative. So this Mary probably isn’t really Mary’s SISTER sister, because the Virgin Mary’s parents already have enough on their plates by being grandparents to the Messiah to not need to add drama by naming two kids the same name. The people in the Bible can be messed up, but not THAT messed up, heh.)

But today we’re looking at the FIFTH Mary, which is Mary of Bethany, sister to Lazarus and Martha.

She’s a Shockingly Interesting Person, as we shall soon see.

Who Could Be Her Celebrity Counterpart?

The Arquettes are a giant bunch (as seen here - Alexis, Rosanna, Richmond, Patricia, and David). And even though there’s a few more siblings than I need for this example, let’s say Rosanna is Martha and Patricia is Mary, and Richmond and David can duke it out over which one of them is Lazarus. (Alexis is the most fabulous of them all and can be anybody she wants to be.)

Where Is She In The Bible?

Luke 10: 38 – 42 – where she sits at Jesus’ feet instead of helping Martha with the housework.

John 11 – Where Jesus raises her brother Lazarus from the dead.

John 12 - Where she washes Jesus’ feet with perfume.

What Did You Already Know About Her Before This?

Everyone in Sunday School knows the story about Mary and Martha, and how the Bible’s Martha could easily have been the Martha Stewart of Biblical times, because Martha’s so focused on cleaning the house for Jesus (and later on, mentioning how Lazarus’ corpse will probably smell after five days when Jesus goes to raise him from the dead) while her sister Mary abandons all housework to simply sit at the foot of Jesus and listen to him teach.

In fact, if I ever get around to writing a musical featuring Women Of The Bible, I think I’ll have a duet between Martha and Mary, called “I Was Always Jesus’ Favorite.” It’ll be sung to the tune of Deck The Halls:

Martha sings:
I was always Jesus’ favorite
La la la la laaaaaa, la la la la.
He loved me because I was obedient.
La la la la laaaaaa, la la la la.

Then Mary sings:
I was always Jesus’ favorite
La la la la laaaaaa, la la la la.
He loved me ‘cause I know what’s more important.
La la la la laaaaaa, la la la la.

Then Apostle John would probably jump in
I was the one whom Jesus loooooved.
La la la la laaaaaa, la la la la.
It’s all in my Gospel, yes it waaaasss.
La la la la laaaaaa, la la la la.


In addition to not helping with the housework and pissing off her sister, Mary of Bethany is also the one who washes Jesus’ feet with an expensive pint of perfume and dries it with her hair. As we read in John 12, this angers Judas, who argues that instead of washing Jesus’ feet, they could’ve sold it and given the money to the poor (John editorializes that Judas actually didn’t want to give the money to the poor, he wanted to keep it for himself.) Jesus tells Judas to shut up (not like that, but nicer) and explains that Mary has actually anointed his body for burial, “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” (John 12:7-8)

Why Is This Shocking?

Sitting at Jesus’ feet to listen to him teach was considered something a disciple would do. Mary’s a chick, but Jesus allows her to sit where a disciple would because he considers her, a woman, a disciple – pretty shocking.

Back in Biblical times, a guest to a house would get a foot bath as soon as they entered the house, because Sandals On Everyone + No Paved Roads = Dirty Dirty Feet.

Normally, a servant would do the washing with water. Jesus and the apostles are meeting IN Mary (and Martha and Lazarus)’s house, so Mary is technically a host, and didn’t have to do the washing.

And even if she wanted to do the washing, water was fine. But she chose to use a very expensive gift on the most humblest of body parts – the dusty road weary feet.

(P.S., while Mary is washing Jesus’ feet and Judas is getting angry, what’s Martha doing? She’s SERVING! John 12:2 – “…Martha served…” Martha is gonna pitch a fit pretty soon if she doesn’t get some help. Though the servants aren’t washing Jesus’ feet currently, so she could grab them if she wanted.)

Whatchoo Thinking About?

I think Mary of Bethany’s all about emotions. Not necessary an emotional wreck, but she doesn’t hide her feelings, she wears them pretty openly. She drops everything to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to him, never mind what Martha wants.

When Jesus arrives in Bethany after Lazarus’ death (John 11) , Martha goes to greet him first, which seems a little out of character for both sisters. But interestingly, this section is more about Martha’s character arc, and how she finally believes that Jesus is the son of God (this is even before Jesus raises Lazarus, and I love that Martha has her own moment here). Mary is back in the house, mourning with others, as someone whose grief is so overwhelming emotionally would do. Yet when Martha tells her that Jesus is here and is asking for her, Mary “got up quickly and went to him,” (John 11: 29)

When Mary gets to Jesus, she throws herself at his feet and says, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Pretty emotional statement right there, she’s crying, everyone around her is crying, Jesus “was deeply moved in spirit” (John 11:33b) and wants to know where Lazarus is buried, and what comes next is the thing that causes Jesus to say the most memorized Sunday School verse ever. Seriously, if you’re in Sunday school, and the teacher says next week’s assignment is to memorize Scripture, and you get to pick the verse, go for this one, John 11:35. Because it’s simply this:

“Jesus wept.”


But back to Scripture! What moves Jesus to tears, among other things (dead Lazarus) is Mary’s tears. Tears from an emotional woman, a woman who says what she thinks, who doesn’t hide her feelings, who acts on her emotions.

A woman who doesn’t give a toss what anyone (Judas) thinks of her washing Jesus’ feet with perfume in John Ch.12, instead of selling the perfume to give the money to the poor. After all, Jesus is the guy who raised her brother from the dead.

Or perhaps, she’s the one who actually understands what Jesus has been telling the disciples for some time – that his time on this earth is drawing to a close. The disciples aren’t getting it. But Emotional Mary Of Bethany is taking Jesus at his word, and anointing his body for the burial that Jesus says is happening. The disciples may think it’s another metaphor, but Mary takes Jesus at his word. Which we all should do.

What Did You Learn?

Looking at these examples, Mary of Bethany could be seen as almost operatic. And I’m kinda jealous of her openness and emotional bravery. She doesn’t care what other people think, she’s gonna feel what she’s gonna feel.

How else would you react in the presence of your Lord and Savior? All pretense should be cast aside. Not point in putting on a mask in front of Jesus. He’s gonna see right through you.

And FYI, it was pretty impossible to find a screen shot of Patricia Arquette in an emotional pose. She’s always calm and collected in front of the cameras. If you wanna see her crying, you’re gonna have to go rent her films. I like True Romance, myself.

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