You guess it…the story of Martha and Mary is still on my mind. Only this time, I’m thinking about Mary. We actually know very little about her, although she’s mentioned in two other places in scripture. Did she live with Martha? Was she known as a ‘slacker’ when it came to housework? How did she have the nerve to sit at the Lord’s feet – a place traditionally reserved for men?
Several years ago I picked up a book at a conference titled When Life and Beliefs Collide by Carolyn Custis James. Pastor Rick Warren had endorsed the book, and since he was at the top of the charts with The Purpose Driven Life – soon to be featured in a movie titled Captive – I gave it my attention. It’s been on my Top 10 list ever since. James asserts – and backs it up very convincingly – that Mary of Bethany was the “first great New Testament theologian.”
A theologian, of course, is technically one who studies “matters of divinity, specifically, the study of God and the relations between God, humankind and the universe.” As Carolyn James says, “Mary was a good listener, a thinker, a learner, and above all, a friend of Jesus.” But what I like even better is when she says, “…the picture of theology that Mary and Jesus give us is taken from life itself and reflects the compelling warmth of a relationship.”
After the hospitality blow-up, we meet Martha and Mary again in Bethany when their brother Lazarus has died and the sisters are grieving. Jesus arrives after four days, and each says to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21, 32). Jesus, of course, raises Lazarus from the dead, and the sisters couldn’t be happier.
In Jesus’ third encounter with Martha and Mary, we find Martha serving once again, and that very same brother, (now wanted dead by the chief priests), “among those reclining at the table with him (Jesus)” John 12:2). This is the passage where we see Mary anointing Jesus with pure nard from “an alabaster jar” (John 12:3; Mark 14:3; Matt. 26:6), pouring it on his head and feet, then wiping his feet with her hair. Jesus remarks, “She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare me for burial” (Mark 14:8).Wow! This same Mary, who months before has chosen to sit at Jesus’ feet, listen and learn from him, has begun to realize a theological truth that has escaped the men: Jesus will die; he will be the sacrificial lamb who will bear the sins of the world. Is it any wonder, then, that Jesus says, I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Mark 14:9).
I don’t know about you, but I want to be like Mary, listening, learning, and studying at the feet of Jesus. That’s what “Bible Study and Meditation on Scripture” is all about. It is the holy habit that will bring us into a life-giving, transformational relationship with Jesus. So crack open those Bibles, okay? And let me know what you learn!