Thursday, May 30, 2024

Mary of Bethany: Choosing the Better, Lesson 3

Mary of Bethany:  Choosing the Better!

By Patsy Norwood  © 2024  All Rights Reserved!

Lesson 3

John 12:1-8 (Also Mark 14:3-9 and Matthew 26:6-13)

Thus far, we’ve seen Mary ‘choose the better’ at a supper in her home, when her world lay crumbled at her feet and this week, we’re going to see her in yet another situation in which she ‘chooses the better.’

Let’s get started with a little background …

Jesus’ public ministry is about to come to a close.  He started this last journey to Jerusalem via Samaria and Galilee teaching and healing along the way.  We catch up with Him here in these passages as He makes a stop at Bethany right outside of Jerusalem.

Note:  This account is recorded in John, Mark and Matthew.  We’ll utilize all three as we study.

John 12:1 Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead.

In our modern-day calendar this would have been on our Friday/Saturday time frame.

Notice the specifics, this puts Jesus right outside of Jerusalem connecting Him with the Lazarus whom He had recently raised from the dead.

John 12:2 There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him.

Who are ‘they?’  Research indicates it was friends of Jesus and Lazarus.

We see that Martha is serving, and that Lazarus is there as well.

The parallel verse in Matthew 26:6 adds … And when Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper,

The parallel verse in Mark 14:3a adds … And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper,

Both Matthew 26:6 and Mark 14:3a tell us that this meal is taking place not in the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, but instead in the home of Simon the leper who also lives in Bethany.

Who was Simon the leper? Obviously, by reading the text we can see that he was a former leper.  I believe he was a ‘former’ leper because lepers were not allowed to have contact with anyone.  Jesus, Mary, Martha, Lazarus and possibly others being in Simon’s home indicates he no longer had leprosy.

Since Martha took an active role in serving the meal, speculation is that Simon was a member of the family or a very close friend.

Before we move on, let’s sum up where we are …

It’s 6 days before the Passover and the last week of Jesus’ life on earth …

Jesus is in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper …

Lazarus was there …

Martha was there helping serve a meal …

But where was Mary … we’re about to find out!

John 12:3 Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.

Here comes Mary!  There’s a lot to unpack in these verses, so hold on …

Up to this point Mary has not been mentioned.  Was she helping serve the meal as Martha was or was she just late to the occasion?  The Bible doesn’t tell us.  What we do know is that out of the blue and seemingly unexpectedly, Mary came in and ‘anointed the feet of Jesus with a very costly perfume and used her hair to wipe His feet.

Have you ever felt so grateful to and full of love for someone that you yearned to do whatever you could to please them?  I think that’s where Mary is in her relationship with Jesus.  I pray for a heart like that toward Jesus.

The literal meaning of the word ‘anoint’ is to smear or rub with oil or an oil substance. 

Spikenard oil was a perfume highly prized by the ancients grown in what we know as the Himalaya Mountains.  It would have had to be transported to Jerusalem which would have added to the expense.  This was no ‘knock-off’ or ‘diluted’ version Mary used, it was the pure stuff.  (This adds to the belief that Mary, Martha and Lazarus were somewhat wealthy.)

The parallel verse in Matthew 26:7 adds … a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table.

“she poured it on His head” … The anointing of the head was a symbol of honor.

“as He sat at the table” … sitting at the table then is different then sitting at the table now.  Then, sitting at the table meant they were reclining on floor cushions and carpets while they ate off of a low table.

The parallel verse in Mark 14:3b adds … as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head.

One other detail mentioned here that hasn’t been mentioned before is that Mary “broke the flask and poured it on His head.”    According to the Pulpit commentary…  “It would seem most probable that Mary first wiped the feet of Jesus, wetting them with her tears, and then wiping off the dust and then anointing them; and that she then proceeded to break the neck of the cruse, and to pour its whole contents on his head.”

In my understanding of hospitality during that time, offering a way for a traveler to clean their feet upon arrival was part of what was expected under the umbrella of hospitality.  Since the common mode of transportation was walking, it would make sense that offering a way for the traveler to remove the dust, grime and possible mud from their feet would be a hospitable thing to do.

One has to wonder why Mary chose to anoint Jesus in the manner that she did?  I think it’s rooted in her love and dedication to Him.  She did and gave the best she could … isn’t that what we should do as well?  Motivated by our love for Jesus, shouldn’t we do and give the best we can?

John 12:4 - 5 But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”

Parallel verses, Mark 14:4-5 reads:  But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, “Why was this fragrant oil wasted?  For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they criticized her sharply.

Parallel verses, Matthew 26:8-9 reads: But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor.”

In doing research on these verses, I found that the consensus was that Judas had persuaded some of the other disciples to go along with his objections, but that he was the ringleader.  His negative influence had infected some of the other disciples!

It seems that Judas was ready and willing to stir up trouble over what Mary did, but why?

“And they criticized her sharply” … we just read that in Mark 14:5. Poor Mary!  How did Jesus’ disciples let themselves fall victim to this kind of behavior?   Judas it seems was very good at “rallying the troops” for his purpose! 

Satan likes nothing better than to see Christians pick away at and turn against each other over things like this!

Another take-away from these verses … be careful who you follow!

John 12:6 This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.

Now, we see the why of Judas’ behavior!  Judas wasn’t concerned for the poor as he had said, he was a thief in disguise in charge of the money box, which he used for his benefit.  It seems his purpose was to get his hands on the money, under the guise of helping the poor.

John 12:7 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial.

Parallel verse, Matthew 26: 10 reads: But when Jesus was aware of it, He said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me.

Parallel verse, Matthew 26: 12 reads: For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial.

Parallel verse, Mark 14: 6 reads: But Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me.

Parallel verse, Mark 14: 8 reads:  She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial.

Jesus notices that Mary is being harassed and criticized and steps in.  He tells His disciples to leave her alone, that what she had done was in essence, anointing His body for burial.

Mary had done a good work, she had done what she could.

Did Mary do what she did with the idea and intention of anointing Jesus’ body for burial?  I personally don’t think so.   Mary didn’t know what the week ahead was going to entail.  I think Mary loved the Lord and wanted to do what she could for Him.  This was something she could do and acted on it.

Do we do what we can for the Lord?  Jesus took Mary’s efforts and act and turned them into something that served a purpose in His overall plan of salvation for mankind.

Lesson to us:  God can and does use what we choose to do for Him in His overall plan of salvation for mankind.

John 12: 8 For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.”

Parallel verse Matthew 26:11 reads: For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always.”

Parallel verse, Mark 14: 7 reads:  For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always.”

Christ is and should be our highest priority!

In closing let’s look at the following verses about Mary …

Mark 14:9 reads: “Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”

Matthew 26: 13 reads:  Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”

What a legacy Mary left for us to consider and follow!

This is the last lesson in our study of Mary of Bethany so let’s close it out with some take-aways from Mary’s life, influence and example …

She had a choice, and she chose the better.

She was reprimanded openly in front of others, yet she remained faithful.

She was willing to take rebuke in order to sit at the Lord’s feet.

The Lord intervened on her behalf.

She loved and was dedicated to the Lord.

She was eager to learn.

Mary had a heart for Jesus.

Mary was obedient to what Jesus said for her to do.

Mary ran to Jesus in her brokenness.

Mary was criticized for doing good.

Mary did the best she knew how to do.

Mary gave the best she could.

Mary was selfless.

Mary is known for her love, faith and dedication to the Lord, are we?

This study has left me wanting to be more like Mary in her love, dedication and commitment to Christ.  How has Mary inspired you?

I hope you’ve enjoyed today's lesson as well as the whole study.  Don’t forget to leave a comment. And if you’ve enjoyed this study, please share the link with other ladies who you think might enjoy it as well.

We’ve taken an in-depth look at Mary of Bethany and saw her heart for Jesus.  Since Martha is often looked upon as the less spiritual one of the two sisters, we’re going to delve into what God’s word says about her in the fall.  I'm deliberately waiting until fall for our study on Martha though, it'll be easier to look clearly at Martha if Mary is not fresh on our minds.

In the meantime, after a few weeks break, we're going to take a look at what Scripture says about Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2).  I'll meet you back here on the first Thursday in July with that lesson! 

Thank you for being a part of this study, may God be glorified in all that we do!

patsy @ From This Heart of Mine

Sources used for this study:

Various translations of the Holy Bible

Various commentaries

Dictionary of New Testament Background, Editors: Craig A Evans & Stanley E. Porter

Archaeological Study Bible

All the Women of the Bible by Edith Deen

Daughters of Eve by Lottie Beth Hobbs

Halley’s Bible Handbook by H. H. Halley

Who’s Who in the Bible by Philip Comfort & Walter A. Elwell