The Bold and the Brave: Mary of Bethany
I always wonder how Mary came to be so wise. The times we get to meet her in the Gospels she always displays a greater understanding of who Jesus is than pretty much anyone else!
In John 12, Jesus is enjoying dinner at Mary’s home. During the evening, she stoops down to anoint Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume, and wipes it away with her hair.
“Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” (John 12:5)
...said Judas, offended by her bold sacrifice. But when I look at the motivation behind her gesture, I am blown away by it! Mary demonstrated huge wisdom by giving everything she had to Jesus. Firstly, she was not afraid to sacrifice her money/ possessions for Jesus; the amount she poured out on Jesus is the equivalent of £26,000 today!
Secondly, she was not afraid to sacrifice her reputation; she knelt down at Jesus’ dusty, dirty feet and wiped them with her hair. This is such a beautiful image of her kneeling down and worshipping at his feet, having no care for what people thought of her.
Mary’s second demonstration of wisdom was in realising that ‘doing for Jesus’ was nowhere near as important as ‘knowing Jesus’. Even her own sister, Martha, wasn’t aware of this!
“Martha, Martha,” Jesus said in Luke 10 “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
It is so innate within us to “do, do, DO” for Jesus, because the more we do, the more Jesus will love us, right?? ...Wrong…! We fall into this trap because it is our experience, it’s how our society works; the more we do, the more valued we are. But it is not what Jesus says to us.
Jesus says Mary was the one who had it right. Mary, who sat idly listening to Jesus as Martha slaved away. Mary who wasted a year’s wages on washing Jesus' feet. Wasn’t she just a bit of a lazy dreamer? Not at all!!
Mary knew the secret, that our top priority must not be to do things, but to be with Jesus. We are human beings, not human doings.
The truth is we will never be able to do enough to solve the problems of the world by ourselves; Jesus tells us ‘You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me’ (John 12:8). As individuals, we are powerless to eradicate global issues - poverty, slavery, global warming - mainly because, as humans, we cause most of them! Instead Jesus says that our utmost priority must be to get to know him, because he is the one who holds the power to change situations; for the needs of the people to be met, Jesus must act.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we should never do anything to help people, or that organisations set up to reduce suffering are useless. But our approach to doing good must reflect Ephesians 2:8-10:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Our good works ‘are prepared in advance’. This means Jesus does not love us any more on the days we do good than the days we do not. ‘Doing good’ should never be a priority in itself, otherwise there will be days we say ‘yes’ to things we don’t want to do, out of duty or guilt; or our efforts fail completely and we feel like we’ve let God down. But this is never true, and Jesus never calls us to feel this way.
Instead, we should imitate Mary’s wisdom, and realise that getting to know Jesus and giving him all we have must be our priority. Then hearing his call to us and taking part in his plans can be our privilege.
Hatty is finishing her degree at Leeds University, and is about to move down to London to spend a year working with Christian students in universities. She has written a few pieces for More Precious and loves all the different series they do!