The New Testament is full of “Marys.” With six or seven different women sharing that same name, it’s easy to get confused. The Mary we’re looking at here was a resident of Bethany, near Jerusalem. She was the sister of Martha and Lazarus. We meet her in three separate stories in the New Testament.
In one, Mary seems to be peeved at Jesus (John 11:20, 28-33). Her brother, Lazarus, had fallen deathly ill. She and Martha sent word for Jesus, a close friend, to come-and come quickly. Christ did not rush to help; in fact, he took so long that he missed the funeral. When he showed up four days after Lazarus’s burial, Mary refused at first to go greet him.
In the other two incidents, Mary is praised by Jesus. There’s the famous scene, mentioned only in Luke (10:38-42), where Jesus and his disciples showed up in Bethany right at dinnertime. While Martha frantically scrambled to get a meal on the table, Mary sat in the living room listening to Jesus. When Martha, in great frustration, instead that Jesus tell Mary to lend a much-needed hand in the kitchen, Jesus gently chided her for being “worried and upset” about the wrong things. He then commended Mary for her proper priorities.
The other even in which Jesus affirms Mary is mentioned in three of the four Gospels (Matt 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; John 12:1-8; Note: despite similarities, this is different from the story found in Luke 7:37-50, which took place in Galilee). This encounter with Jesus happened near the end of Christ’s life. Mary anointed him with some very expensive perfume during an elaborate feast thrown by Simon and Martha. Jesus’ promise that Mary’s actions in this moment would be forever “told in memory of her” (Mark 14:9) has been fulfilled a million times over. No doubt you’ve heard more sermons, done more Bible study lessons, and read more devotionals about this incident than you can remember.
But it’s worth looking at again. Put yourself in Mary’s place. Imagine yourself among the guests at this dinner party. Reclining at the dinner table is Lazarus-the brother you love so deeply and thought for sure you’d lost. You look over at Simon, the one who struggled for so long with the disfiguring disease of leprosy. The disciples are there, with all their amazing tales. Everyone in attendance has a story.
And there in the midst of them all is the guest of honor: Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter-turned-rabbi. He’s the One who brought your brother back from the grave. He’s the One who made Simon well and whole. He’s the One-you know it from firsthand experience-whose words are truth and life itself.
This is the Savior. The Messiah is in your house. Your heart is so full. You are beyond thankful. Then you remember it-your most precious possession. That alabaster jar of very expensive fragrant oil made from nard. It’s a big jar, a pound or more, meaning it’s worth a small fortune (at least a year’s salary). It was to be part of your dowry one day. Whatever!
With excitement, you run to your room and retrieve it. Then with unbridled joy you bring it out and break it open. As the exotic fragrance fills the room, and as the partygoers gawk, you pour the precious substance on Christ’s head. When it drips down on his feet, you kneel, undo your hair, and mop up the excess.
All conversation ceases. The room goes still. Eyebrows are rising. Eyes are cutting all about the room. Finally, Judas, one of the disciples, speaks It’s a critique, a negative statement about such “waste,” followed by a disingenuous comment of how this fragrant oil could have been sold and the money donated to the poor. Other disciples join in the rebuke.
Jesus won’t stand for it. “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She had done a noble thing for Me. . . .She has done what she could; she has anointed My body in advance for burial” (Mark 14:6,8).
An impulsive, appreciative gesture was made in a private dinner party a long time ago, and we’re still talking about it today.