As we saw previously, there were three women named Mary in close relationship to Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry: His mother Mary, His disciple Mary Magdalene, and His dear friend Mary of Bethany. The pattern of triplets in Scripture, reflecting God’s triune nature, continues as we study Mary of Bethany in closer detail.
Mary of Bethany lived in a family unit of three, including herself, her sister Martha, and her brother Lazarus (John 11:1-5). The Bible tells us of three significant occasions in her life: she lavishly worshipped Jesus by anointing His feet with precious ointment (John 11:2; 12:3-8; Luke 7: 37-50); she listened quietly at His feet to soak up His wisdom (Luke 10:38-42); and she watched Him raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11: 1-45)
In Luke’s account of a woman anointing the feet of Jesus, Mary is not mentioned by name, and it may be that this was a separate incident involving a different woman from the account in John 12:(3-8), who clearly is Mary of Bethany. And yet John refers to Mary of Bethany as “that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair,” (John 11:2), suggesting that the woman described in Luke 7 may also be Mary of Bethany.
When Luke recounted the dinner party in which a woman, I believe Mary, anointed her Savior’s feet, he refers to her as a sinner (Luke 7: 37), which must have some special connotation as we are all sinners who have broken God’s laws (Romans 3:23; Psalm 14:1-3). The implication may be that she was well known to be living in sin. Her sinful condition was evident not only to herself, but also to Luke who wrote this account, and to Simon the Pharisee, the host of this event (Luke 7:39).
We can infer that Mary knew she was a sinner in need of Savior, as is evident by her humility (v. 38), sorrow (v. 38), and need for forgiveness (v. 42-43; 47-48). She must have known that she had come to the end of her own resources, could do nothing to save herself, and gave over all she had and all she was to let Jesus be Lord of her life. May we follow her example, repenting of our sins, trusting in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), and inviting Him into our hearts to be Lord of our lives!
Mary pulled out all the stops when it came to worshipping Jesus. She sought Him out despite the danger, she tearfully repented (Luke 7: 38), and she adoringly ministered to Him. Simon was a Pharisee, a legalistic, self-righteous religious leader, and Mary was an infamous sinner.
Yet she came, presumably uninvited, to Simon’s house because she knew Jesus would be there (v. 37). In so doing, she risked being thrown out by the host as he considered her to be unworthy (v. 39), being ridiculed by the dinner guests who disapproved of Jesus (v. 49) and of her (John 12:4-8), and even being rejected by Jesus Himself.
I believe that Mary was weeping tears of Godly sorrow (v. 38), in repentance for sin, similar to the tears of the Psalmist David (Psalm 6;119:136) and the “weeping prophet” Jeremiah (Jeremiah 9:1,18; Lamentations 3:48). She came to Jesus not in defiance but in humility, standing behind Him at His feet (the word “feet” is mentioned three times in Luke 7: 38).
She cleansed His feet by washing them with her tears and wiping them with her hair; she kissed His feet; and she anointed His feet with precious ointment (v. 38; 44-46). Jesus contrasts the poor hospitality of Simon, who omitted the host’s customary duties of foot washing, kiss of greeting, and anointing with oil, with Mary pouring out her whole being into these acts, elevating them from hospitality to extravagant worship (v. 44-46).
Simon did not invite Mary to his house, nor did Simon offer Jesus even standard hospitality, yet Mary showered Jesus with lavish hospitality. In essence, she invited Jesus into her whole being (body, soul, and spirit).
Foot washing, normally done by the lowliest servant (and, in the upper room by Christ Himself; John 13:4-17, who took on the form of a servant; Philippians 2:7), was necessary in those days to wash away the dust and grime accumulated by walking long distances in sandals over dirt roads. Yet foot washing is also symbolic of Christ washing away the sins of the world in His own blood (Romans 3:25), for He Himself had no sin (Hebrews 4:15).
Praise God that He forgives us if we ask Him! Jesus sees our tears of Godly sorrow and washes away our sins, just as the Holy Spirit led Mary to weep tears of repentance that cleansed the dust of the world from Christ’s feet.
Mary gave her body as a living sacrifice to Jesus (Romans 12:1), washing His feet with her flood of tears, drying them with her hair, and kissing them repeatedly with her mouth to show her devotion (Luke 7. 38; 44-46). On previous readings of this passage I had a mental image of Mary drying Jesus’ feet with her luxurious mane of long tresses. But on further study, I notice that the Bible does not say that she wiped His feet with her "hair," but with the “hairs of her head” (v. 38, 44).
It makes me wonder if Mary cut off or tore out sections of hair to use as a towel, making her devotion to Christ even more self-sacrificing. But it also reminds me that the very hairs of our head are numbered (Matthew 10:30; Luke 12:7), reflecting not only His perfect knowledge of us and His complete protection of us, but also the reckoning believers face at the Judgment Seat of Christ when He shows us how well we used, or failed to use, our body to glorify Him (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Mary not only sacrificed her pride and offered her body as a living sacrifice, but she also gave Him all her earthly treasure. She stored the precious ointment, identified in a similar account as spikenard (John 12:3) in a costly alabaster box, which may have represented her dowry or the sum of all her material possessions. Yet she broke open the box (similar account in Mark 14:3) and bestowed all the ointment lavishly on Jesus without considering the cost, because her heart was ignited by the Holy Spirit with passion to serve Him.
The broken box may represent Mary’s broken spirit as she came to Christ; the pouring out of all the ointment may symbolize her holding nothing back to save for future use (for she had faith in His provision); and the fragrance filling the air (John 12:3) reflecting the Holy Spirit entering her heart as she surrendered to Jesus as Lord of her life.
As Jesus explained to Simon in a parable with three characters (a creditor and two debtors), the person who recognizes how much he has sinned, and how much he needs forgiveness, will have the greatest love for the One who forgives sin (Luke 7:40-43). Mary did this and gladly received Christ’s gifts of forgiveness, faith, and peace (v. 48-50). May we follow her example and pour out our whole being for Him!
© 2015 Laurie Collett