Commissioned to Serve – The Story of Mary of Bethany


“Every woman has a story AND every woman’s story matters to God.”

 INTRODUCTION   

In the world of theology and the Church, the Lenten experience is the centerpiece celebration of Christianity.  In many Christian churches during the calendar year, the women’s narratives of Scripture are either ignored, dismissed, or rarely preached; however, writing out the presence of women in the Lenten experience is impossible.

In consideration of Jesus and his devoted female disciples, we are reminded of a cadre of women who moved to the Cross event with Jesus, even as most of his male followers deserted their post.  These women, both named and unnamed, provided support, comfort, steady presence, and unmatched devotion, as Jesus journeyed towards the inevitable:  crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.

In all four of the gospel accounts, their names and deeds are recorded:  Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary of Magdala, Mary, the mother of John Mark, Salome, Joanna, Susanna, Claudia; the enslaved girl who confronts Peter, and Mary of Bethany.  These women were the ministers of The Cross; these women were the sentinels of The Tomb; these women were the apostles of The Resurrection, and these women were the witnesses to The Ascension.  In the finished work of Jesus, the Christ, women were used mightily by God to accomplish the greatest kingdom work of our world.

In consideration of the these phenomenal women and their contributions to the Lenten experience, we will examine the story of Mary of Bethany, loving disciple and friend of Jesus, and sister to Martha and Lazarus.

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Mary of Bethany is mentioned by name three times in the New Testament. There are also other references of her presence, such as Luke 8:1, Matthew 26: 6-13, and Mark 14: 3-9, where we can assume she is among the sisterhood of women who followed and supported Jesus’ ministry and mission

  Read:  Matthew 26: 6-13, Mark 14: 3-9, John 11: 1-3, & John 12: 1-4.

Interestingly, we are most aware of Mary of Bethany from her decision to leave the kitchen, where her sister Martha continued to angst and toil over the chores of the day, for the coveted position of sitting at the feet of Jesus, in a room full of men.  Yet, the story of Mary, who anoints the head of Jesus for burial, as told in 3 of the 4 gospel accounts, is a much more powerful portrayal of a woman commissioned by God, for the ultimate kingdom assignment.

Definitions:

Commission – the act of entrusting a person with supervisory power or authority ; to authorize and send on a mission.

Submission – yielding control to a more powerful or authoritative entity.  Literally means to get under (sub) the mission of an authoritative entity.

Anointing – The Hebrew word for the verb “anoint” is “mashach” and this word is the root of the word “messiah” (“anointed one”). The basic idea of anointing in Old Testament culture was (1) the hygienic practice of applying oil or ointment to smear or pour on wounds, or to provide a cleansing.  (2) The specific religious practice of anointing by pouring on the head as a symbolic act for officially designating and setting apart a man or boy for specific public leadership function in the community.  In the Hebrew community, there were three types of leaders anointed for duty:  priests (Exodus 28:41); kings (1 Samuel 10: 1); prophets (1 Kings 19:16).  Thus, the “anointed one” was the authorized and empowered leader.  The power conferred by the authorized agent to the king, prophet, or priest was also either a Levitical priest or high priest.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

So………who was this emboldened, courageous woman, who without invitation, decided to enter the house of Simon, bypass the men in the room, head straight for Jesus, and stand in the office of a high priest, to anoint the head of the Messiah?  Who commissioned Mary of Bethany to perform such an unorthodox act before the men ( male guests including the disciples) of this house party?  Under whose authority was she submitted to, and most importantly, how and why did she receive this assignment, as the ONLY WOMAN in Holy Scripture recorded as anointing the head of a king/priest/prophet?

In consideration of the two reactions of the men in the room (Jesus and the “indignant” male diners), we can understand the nature and the importance of Mary’s divine assignment.  “So they scolded her harshly” – Greek translation:  “to snort with anger.”  

The second reaction is Jesus’ – “Leave her alone………You may be sure that wherever the good news is told all over the world, people will remember what she has done.  And they will tell others.” (Mark 14: 6, 9 – CEV)

What a contrast in reaction and behavior! One group is acting out of indignation, sabotage, and jealousy, realizing that standing right in front of them is a woman, fearless enough to dare shatter the patriarchy of their religious experience and understanding.

We often underestimate the force/negative energy in the room that “snorted with indignation” and attempted to intimidate and collapse Mary’s assignment.  This spirit of sabotage and jealousy is one which women so often have to encounter and fight against, as we ourselves, carry the burden of our calling, and the ordination of the Holy Spirit.

In Mary’s case, the negative energy which engulfed the room wanted to deflate Mary’s determination to minister to Jesus.  As she challenged the cultural and societal confinement of patriarchy and misogyny by her very presence, the men banded together in an attempt to thwart her mission – “So they scolded her harshly.”  Under the guise of political correctness – “why waste such expensive perfume? The money could have been given to the poor” – they attempt to harass her and distort her intentions.  Clearly, they also expected Jesus to buy on to their suggestions.

So, the men in the room recognized what and who they were looking at.  Mary had stepped out of “her place.”  How dare she, by her actions towards Jesus, infer the status and station of a high priest.  This was a woman, and an unmarried woman at that.  While we may miss the religious and cultural implications of her actions, they did not.  To the disciples (who clearly were a part of the dining experience), she was more than an unwanted presence – she was a challenge to male power and privilege.  Mary was acting as a religious leader – a woman who dared touch the head of “their” Messiah.  The indignation and snorting was only the beginning of their rage.  Left unchecked, Mary could have easily lost her life that night in Bethany.

The second reaction is that of Jesus, who connects with the spiritual authority and sacred energy of a devoted friend, commissioned by God to anoint Jesus for his ultimate kingdom purpose:  The Cross and The Resurrection.

While Mary’s voice is silent in the text (or removed), we do understand there would have been words which accompanied the anointing of Jesus.  Most likely, the words Mary spoke to Jesus were a sacred blessing – one which confirmed Jesus’ painstaking task and encouraged his mission.  Mary was the vessel of honor which God chose to pour out a sacred balm – one which would enable Jesus to accept and carry out his divine assignment for humanity.   Mary was selected as God’s ambassador – she was the chosen intercessor between God and Jesus.  Thus the words of Jesus, “people will remember what she [Mary] has done.”

As we move across the landscape of Mary of Bethany’s story, we realize her empowerment and fearlessness did not happen overnight.  Mary sat at the feet of Jesus, and learned of Him. Mary opened her home and provided Jesus with hospitality.  Mary trusted in the Lord for her brother’s healing and deliverance.  Mary served with other women to support Jesus’ ministry.  Mary, with her sisterhood, stationed themselves at the Cross and arranged for Jesus’ burial.  Mary received the unprecedented kingdom assignment from God because she was capable of carrying out the mission.  She was handpicked by God because God knew Mary was the right person. To God, it did not matter that she was a woman from an ordinary family.  God moved away the religious trappings of Israel’s understanding and bestowed upon Mary the priesthood.  This is why the men in the room were outraged.

Mary’s unorthodox behavior was an indignation to some; but, a blessing to Jesus.  This is why Jesus reminds the men who were at the table that her actions of faith, love, courage, and discernment will be remembered for all time.  It is also sacred reminder to us, Mary’s sisters, that God’s unique and holy plans for our lives have kingdom attachments.  God has, and will continue to give us, God’s daughters, kingdom assignments that will change this world.

Questions for our discussion and consideration

Consider this quote by Denzel Washington:  “Some people will never like you because your spirit irritates their demons.”  How does this relate to the story of Mary of Bethany and the anointing of Jesus.  Explain.

How does this story encourage you and confirm the missions and ministries you may have in the kingdom of God?

Considering that the disciples all had important assignments with regard to supporting Jesus, why do you think they were so indignant and outraged towards Mary?

OUR SENDING PRAYER

Dear Precious Lord,

I thank You, O God, for ordering my steps and directing my purpose towards kingdom work.

I thank you for covering me with Your almighty shadow.  I declare, trust, and believe that no evil shall

come near my home, my family, my work, my body, or my thoughts.  I rebuke the enemy from hindering

my life and purpose.  No storm, no demonic strategy, no offense, no pestilence, and no evil report shall

interrupt the blessings of God in my life.  I release the love and wisdom of God into my heart, mind, and soul.

Satan, take your hands off God’s anointed!  Bless you, O God, for the joy and peace and love which passes all

understanding.  In the precious name of Jesus, we pray – AMEN!

“The enclosed materials are the property of Maxine E. Garrett and Tabitha’s Daughters Empowerment Series.  They may be used by you with our permission which may be revoked at any time.  All copies of the materials must include the following notice:  “This material is Copyright [2015] Maxine E. Garrett and Tabitha’s Daughters and is distributed with permission.”

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