MARY OF BETHANY. With a first name meaning ‘beloved’ or ‘much wished for child’ and a last name meaning ‘house of welcome’ we get a glimpse into this much talked about woman in the New Testament.
We first learn that this Mary is the sister of Martha and Lazarus. Lazarus would have been raised to provide a home for his sisters if they were unmarried, and they would have taken care of him in response, doing the cooking, cleaning and running the household. (Like many of our families, I suspect Martha was the eldest based on what we see of her personality.)
What we do know about Mary of Bethany is she realized the value in sitting at Jesus’ feet and learning what He had to share about the Kingdom of God. In those days, women were not encouraged or even allowed to sit and learn from a Rabbi, which makes Jesus’ comment to Martha that Mary chose the better use of her time so shocking given the culture they were raised in.
But the part of this Mary’s story I find so fascinating and illuminating is seen in all 4 Gospels, yet Mary of Bethany is only named in one of them.
In Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9 & Luke 7:36-50, there is an account of a woman who was invited to a banquet in Jesus’ honor in Bethany. She washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, kissed His feet, poured a jar of expensive perfume onto His feet to anoint Him, and dried/wiped His feet with her hair. (Note: One of the four accounts has her anointing his head.) This woman was referred to as a sinful woman, which most people like to think of as a promiscuous one. Yet in those days, a woman who was out during her period or who wasn’t properly covering her hair in a room filled with men would have been considered a sinner.
Many of us have heard this story told about the unnamed woman, and how Jesus used her as an example to the others there for greeting Him, giving Him a costly offering without holding back, and anointing Him for what is to come, His burial.
The custom in those days when a guest of honor was invited into your home? You greeted them with a kiss, and washed their feet before bringing them to the seat of honor. It appears that the host, Simon, did not do so for Jesus when He arrived at the banquet. (Lazarus was also in attendance, and Martha was there helping to serve.)
So not only did Jesus speak well of this woman, He was making a point to the others in attendance, as He regularly did when He taught in public.
However, in John 12:1-8, we learn the name of this woman. (Which always makes me laugh, because any good student would do their homework and read all the accounts of the same story, right?)
You guessed it. She was Mary of Bethany. And as the banquet was in her hometown, it makes sense why she was recognized.
I just find it funny why she isn’t named in all of the accounts, but then i thought maybe the other 3 disciples preferred to keep her name out of it out of respect for the fact she was related to one of Jesus’ friends. (Won’t know the answer to this one on this side of heaven!)
What inspires me the most about Mary of Bethany?
She recognized Jesus for who He was. The Teacher and the Messiah. The One who could raise her brother from the dead, and worthy of all she had to give – her love, attention and earthy goods.
May we too pour ourselves out before Him with abandon whenever we have the opportunity to do so, regardless of the critical observers about us!