It was a question that sent me on a search: “Wasn’t Mary one of the women who was at the cross?” my husband asked this morning. He had just read my last blog post where I stated that Mary (Martha’s sister) was only mentioned three times in the Bible, and he remembered that “Mary” was one of several women at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified. He was certainly right about a Mary or two being there. But which ones?
My gut told me that, named or not, both sisters were in the crowd that day, the day we call Good Friday. How could they not be? And Lazarus, too. They were a family who deeply loved Jesus. They had provided shelter and food for him and his disciples. They may have provided money for their travels, as did many other women – Mary the mother of James the Younger and Joses, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Salome (Mark 15:40-41). But the sisters’ names aren’t specifically mentioned in the Bible as being at the foot of the cross.
I turned to one of my reference books – the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary – to get the scoop. Holman mentions seven women named Mary who are referenced in the New Testament. The first, of course, is Mary the mother of Jesus. She was definitely at the foot of the cross. And so was Mary Magdalene, one of the women who also followed and supported Jesus. This Mary experienced a dramatic healing when Jesus cast seven demons out of her. But our Mary of Bethany (Martha’s sister) is not mentioned in the Bible after she anointed Jesus with her alabaster jar of perfume. Then the Holman Dictionary lists Mary the mother of James the Younger and Joses, Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary the mother of John Mark, and finally Mary, from Rome, a believer who Paul noted for her hard work on behalf of believers (Rom. 16:6).
Mary, of course, was a very common name in those days. It’s a Greek name that is equivalent to Miriam in Hebrew. And being a fan of the meaning behind the name, I looked it up. It turns out that Mary’s inherent meaning in both Greek and Hebrew is “bitterness.” That surprised me. But then one source says it may have been derived from an Egyptian name, mry, meaning “beloved.” I like that better, especially as it pertains to those women named Mary who are referenced so lovingly in the gospels. Most of these women were friends of Jesus, eyewitnesses to his life, ministry, death and resurrection; all of them were his disciples.
And where was Mary of Bethany when Jesus ascended into heaven or when the day of Pentecost arrived and the Holy Spirit came as a mighty rushing wind? We aren’t told, are we? But I can guess, can’t you? And it doesn’t have anything to do with housework!