Why Remember Mary of Bethany?
Good News Magazine
February 1982
Volume: Vol XXIX, No. 2
Issue: ISSN 0432-0816
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Why Remember Mary of Bethany?
James P Lichtenstein  

   Jesus said, "Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her." The question is, Why?

   Just days before His crucifixion Jesus returned for the final time to Bethany, a village less than two miles from Jerusalem, on the east slope of the Mount of Olives.
   There He shared an intimate dinner with His disciples at the home of Simon, a leper.
   It was just after this evening's events that Judas agreed to betray Jesus into the hands of the chief priests who sought to kill Him.
   Judas became offended that night. This offense, added to what may have been a long list of other imagined offenses Judas harbored against Jesus, may have been the catalyst that finally turned Judas against his Savior. What happened that night to further alienate Judas from Jesus?

Offended at Christ

   Jesus warns us to be on guard against becoming offended and turning away from Him and His way of life. He tells us that in the end time "shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another" (Matt. 24:10). This happened to Judas and began to affect at least some of the other disciples that night.
   At that dinner, just two days before the Passover, a woman anointed Jesus with a special, expensive ointment (Matt. 26:6-13). John 12:1-8 tells of the same dinner and identifies the woman anointing Jesus as a close personal friend, Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus. Lazarus is the one Jesus raised from the dead just a few days before (John 11:1-2, 39-44).
   The dinner that night in Bethany was special to all. It was a celebration for Lazarus' restoration to life (John 12:1-2), and no doubt for Jesus a time of heaviness as the reality of His imminent crucifixion weighed on His mind.
   Mary and Martha were privileged to serve the dinner, while Lazarus was one of the guests. During the course of the evening Mary no doubt surprised everyone by taking an entire pound of costly ointment and anointing Jesus with it (John 12:3, Matt. 26:7, Mark 14:3).
   When the disciples observed what Mary was doing, instead of respecting this act of service and generosity, they began to find fault with her. Judas expressed the thought that what she did was a great waste (John 12:4-5).
   Judas estimated the spikenard's value at 300 pence or one Roman denarius, a silver coin about the weight and size of an American silver quarter. Scripture indicates that one pence was actually the amount of money paid to a laboring man for a day's work (Matt. 20:2).
   The value, then, of this ointment was great indeed — nearly a year's wages for a working man!
   Judas' motive in complaining about what Mary did was not out of concern for the poor, as he said, but because he lost an opportunity for great personal gain through theft (John 12:6). Judas, however, was not alone in finding fault with Mary's actions. Some of the other disciples also joined in to find fault with her. We are told they "had indignation" and complained at the waste (Matt. 26:8, Mark 14:5).
   The clamor of the group of disciples against Mary became so vehement that Jesus had to come to her rescue and rebuke them by saying, "Let her alone; why trouble ye her?" (Mark 14:6).
   When Jesus explained to the disciples the meaning of this special service, the attitudes of all but one — Judas — were apparently calmed. Even though Jesus had for months before been explaining to His disciples that when He returned to Jerusalem it would be to die, the disciples had not understood what He meant (Matt. 16:21-22).
   Jesus told the group, "She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying" (Mark 14:8). And again on this occasion Jesus patiently explained to the disciples what He would have to go through during the next few days.
   All but one of the disciples had his mind open to receive this rebuke from Jesus.
   Only Judas, motivated by greed, refused to change his attitude and learn from Mary's example. Instead he rejected Jesus and entered into negotiations with the priesthood to betray Him. Judas was promised 30 pieces of silver, an amount far less than the value of the spikenard Mary used to anoint Jesus (Matt. 26:14-16).

The lesson of Mary's act

   Both Matthew's and Mark's accounts tell us there is a lesson in Mary's anointing Jesus. Jesus said, "Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her" (Matt. 26:13, Mark 14:9).
   Mary apparently believed Jesus when He said He had come to Jerusalem to die. She may not have understood the full meaning of His death for the sins of all mankind, but she did believe what He said. She did what she could to assist her Friend and Savior in whatever way she knew how.
   On the other hand, the disciples who were with Jesus daily and constantly heard His preaching, who saw His miracles and were eyewitnesses only days before to the raising of Lazarus from the tomb — did not understand the Gospel message Jesus had been teaching them. And when they were witnesses to Mary's act of service to her Lord, the disciples found fault and one turned completeIy away.
   For each of us, Mary stands as an example of faith, trust and commitment to God. Though she was chided for her service by those closest to Jesus and though she probably did not fully understand what Jesus' death was to mean, she believed what He said and she served.
   Mary's total commitment of herself and all her resources to Jesus stands as a memorial and testimony to all in God's Church of what true Christianity is — to follow Jesus in faith, all the way, with all we have.

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Good News MagazineFebruary 1982Vol XXIX, No. 2ISSN 0432-0816