Summary: When our work proceeds out of a devotion to Jesus, we will not be without our critics.
AT THE FEET OF JESUS
It has been remarked as remarkable that on three occasions when we meet Mary of Bethany in the Scriptures, she is found at the feet of Jesus. In Luke 10:39 she is sitting at the feet of Jesus. In John 11:32 Mary is prostrated at His feet. In John 12:3 she is wiping His feet with her hair.
1. Sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to His Word (Luke 10:38-42).
Mary’s sister Martha is like those Christians who, though saved by faith, make such a labour out of their everyday duties that they do not have time to stop, and hear what God the LORD will speak (Psalm 85:8). There is nothing wrong with industry and hard work, but we must not become overwhelmed with the cares of this world, choking the seed of the Word of God (Mark 4:19)! Our salvation does not rest in a frenzy of good works, hospitality and church activities, but in a relationship with our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Mary is of a much quieter disposition. She is content to sit still at the feet of Jesus, feasting on His words. According to Jesus, she has found the better part, the one thing needful (Luke 10:42). She is not a lazy girl, but for her spiritual things have priority over even the practicalities of eastern hospitality. No-one can take that away from her.
2. Prostrated at the feet of Jesus, the posture of humble prayer (John 11:32).
The difference between these two women of God is also seen in their prayer to Jesus when their brother Lazarus died. Both seem to rebuke Jesus for not having been present at His friend’s bedside in his hour of need (John 11:21; John 11:32). Yet Martha goes a step further, and grasps in faith at a practicality: even now, at this late hour, God will grant whatever Jesus asks of Him (John 11:22).
Mary, for her part, is content to remain prostrated at Jesus’ feet, this part of the prayer unspoken (John 11:32). Her humble posture and her tears have an eloquence all of their own. What is more, it is the tears of the more devotional of the sisters which swings Jesus into action in answer to the prayer (John 11:33-44).
3. The anointing of Jesus, the posture of worship (John 12:1-8).
It was six days before the Passover, and the family in Bethany made our Lord a supper. The resurrected Lazarus was there, and Martha was serving. In a singular act of devotion, Mary took a whole bottle of very expensive Indian perfume and lavished it upon the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair.
The treasurer, one Judas Iscariot, was incensed at this apparent waste! After all, it could have been sold for a year’s wages and the proceeds given to the poor. Yet the evangelist John is at pains to inform us that this particular church officer, who would later betray Jesus (John 12:4), was cross for another reason: he had his hand in the bag (John 12:6).
Again we see something of Mary’s humility and spirituality. Jesus says that she has got the rights of the matter, because she had the insight and precognition to thus anoint Him for his burial (John 12:7). All of Mary’s service commences, as should ours, at the feet of Jesus.
When our work does proceed out of a devotion to Jesus, we will find ourselves criticised, sometimes even by our fellow-believers. Yet our heart’s extravagance is a sacrifice of a sweet savour to the Lord. What Mary did was accepted as part of her reasonable service, because her motives and her motivation were sound (Romans 12:1).
This is not to undermine the place of almsgiving in Christian service. Jesus says that we will always have the poor (John 12:8), and we should always minister to them appropriately. This is taught throughout the Bible.
Yet for the Christian this is no longer a legal obligation, but a debt of gratitude for what Jesus has done for us through His death and resurrection. Jesus applauded Mary for her perception that this costly ointment was intended to be kept for His burial. It was now poured out in an act of sacrificial giving because His time had come.
When all is said and done, what Mary did was quite shocking. In any other situation it would have been considered a cultural faux pas to let down her hair as she did, and to wipe His feet in such a manner. The fragrance of Mary’s act of devotion stands as a testimony to the ends of the earth, for ever (cf. Mark 14:9).