The Book of John

Thursday: Jesus and Mary of Bethany


Theme: What Mary Understood
In this week’s lessons, we learn about Mary’s love for Jesus, and see that our own love for and service of the Lord needs to be self-sacrificing as well.
Scripture: John 12:1-11
Now here’s the third thing. I have talked about Mary’s extravagance, as well as her love. The third thing is her understanding. She was great at all three of these. Again, you have to see this by a contrast. Jesus said in verse 7, “Leave her alone; it was meant that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.” Mary knew what she was doing. Nard was used in funeral arrangements, and when she poured this out on Jesus it was a way of saying, “I know that you’re going to die. I know that’s what you came for.”
As I read this story, I think Mary was the only one who understood it at this time. Later they all came to understand it, but up to this point, they didn’t. The disciples didn’t. We know that. Jesus had been trying to teach them. When he set his face to go up to Jerusalem, he said, “Now, we’re going up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of evil men and he’s going to be tried and convicted and crucified; and the third day he’ll rise again.” Jesus told them plainly what was going to happen, but they didn’t get it. They didn’t know what he was talking about. And the most they could think was, well, if he persisted in going up to Jerusalem where his enemies were, he’d be killed and they’d be killed with him. They didn’t see any more than that.
Peter, the one who gave that great answer in Matthew 16 about who Jesus was, didn’t see it. John, who writes the Gospel with all his understanding and who was one of the three closest disciples, didn’t see it. Neither did Nathaniel, James, or any of the others who responded rightly to Jesus and followed him around during his earthly ministry. But Mary did. And if you ask how this woman came to understand it when all these other disciples missed it, the answer is a simple one. She learned it by being often where we find her now. Where do we find her in this story? We find her at the feet of Jesus. Where do we always find her? We find her at the feet of Jesus.
There are two other stories that involve Mary, and they both show her exactly the same way. One is that story when Jesus visited the house on an earlier occasion and Martha was getting everything ready, while Mary was sitting at his feet, learning as he taught. Martha complained about Mary not helping her. Jesus encouraged Mary in what she was doing. He said, “What you’re doing, Martha, is important, but for now, in this situation, Mary’s chosen the better part.”
The other story is in chapter 11, surrounding the death and raising of Lazarus. When Jesus was just outside Bethany, having heard that Lazarus was sick, Martha came to meet him. After speaking with Martha, he then called for Mary. When she came to Jesus, she fell at his feet. Now we see that she’s doing it again. She’s at his feet, anointing them and wiping his feet with her hair.
In Jewish idiom, to sit at the feet of somebody else implied a position of learning. That was the position occupied by a disciple. The master stood or sat on a chair or a bench, and then the disciples were at his feet, you see. So when the language was used, “She was at his feet,” it means by use of the Hebrew idiom that she was there to learn. And you know that is the only way you and I are going to get understanding either. In order to do that, we’re going to have to sit at Jesus’ feet by studying the Bible. That’s the only place you really learn from him. Furthermore, it is there not only that you learn about Jesus, but it’s there that you come to love him because you learn about his love. And as you do this, you learn to be extravagant.
Some years ago, a Bible teacher told a story that had to do with a lesson God taught him early in his life. He was a boy at the time, and he was traveling with another Bible teacher, a man he looked up to who was bringing him along, obviously to teach him something about the nature of Christian work. They were traveling by train in those days, and as they were traveling the Bible teacher was reading his Bible. The young boy that was traveling with him (who later became a Bible teacher in his own right) was reading the newspaper. The boy looked up from the newspaper to the man who was his mentor on the train, and he said, looking as he studied the Bible, “My, I wish I knew the Bible the way you do.” And his teacher said to him, “You’ll never get it reading the newspaper.” And he said he got the point. He put down the newspaper, and he picked up the Bible and began to read that because you see, that’s where you learn about Jesus.
Study Questions:

What was Mary’s ointment, and what was it used for? How does this shed light on Mary’s knowledge about Jesus?
What common element about Mary do we find in the few references to her?

Reflection: What steps will you take to increase your knowledge of, and love for, Jesus?

Study Questions
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