A few weeks ago, women from Restoration Church and Raccoon Ridge Community Church in Dallas Center came together for a one-day women’s retreat at Hidden Acres Christian Center in Dayton, Iowa. As we kicked off our time together, I looked around the room and said, “If you came today to make crafts, play games, or chit-chat with your friends, you came to the wrong retreat!” The day alternated between teaching and intentional space for personal quiet time. Our hope for the day was that women left encouraged and inspired with a renewed longing to sit at the feet of Jesus. We pray it was so.
We spent much of the day digging into the life of Mary of Bethany. This is the Mary of the famous sibling trio Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. She is a relevant bible character for this theme because every time she is displayed in Scripture she is literally at Jesus’ feet. Much can be learned from Mary’s encounters with Jesus. Let’s begin in Luke 10:38-42. In a room full of men and a bustling Martha we see a silent Mary postured at Jesus’ feet. It’s important to note here the cultural undertone of this time. Women were not given the same rights as women of today. Most women were seen as mere property. They were to be kept separate from men in most areas of life. They were not deemed worthy of teaching or instruction. Women had very little control over their daily lives which would have been full of housekeeping and child-rearing duties. Their father would choose their spouse, their husband could divorce them for almost any reason, and their testimony was not worthy in a court of law.
Now, contrast that knowledge with this picture of Mary. She is intently listening to this Rabbi, Jesus, positioning herself culturally as a student of his teachings by sitting at his feet. When Martha, Mary’s sister, turns to Jesus and points out that Mary is not helping with the domestic chores of the day, one can also assume that in this exchange, Martha is very concerned about the societal implications of Mary’s choice. Mary’s position at Jesus’ feet is a bold declaration to all that she also longs to be a disciple, a student, and a follower of Jesus. And what does Jesus say? Look at verse 42, “Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.” Praise God! We have a God that came for all. The powerful and the weak, the free and the slave, male and female. May we all be encouraged, like Mary, to bravely sit at the feet of Christ with a one-minded focus on his teachings and his ways.
The second time we see Mary of Bethany she is in great distress. Check out John 11:1-35. Mary and Martha’s beloved brother, Lazarus, has just died. They sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was ill, but Jesus came too late. Mary is in a house where she is surrounded by loud, grieving mourners. Martha runs inside to inform Mary that Jesus wants to see her! Mary gets up quickly (I think she runs) and goes to Jesus. Upon seeing him, she once again throws herself at his feet. She cries out in verse 32, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She laments to Jesus at his feet. And guess what? Jesus, this God-man, fully divine, and fully human…he weeps with her. Verse 33 references that Jesus was deeply moved in Spirit and troubled. Verse 35 declares that Jesus wept. This display of grief, this love for his friend, this anger at death itself wells up in Jesus and he weeps with Mary. Most important to this story is that Jesus was on his way to RAISE HIM FROM THE DEAD! Jesus knew the ending, and yet, he wept with his beloveds.
You are his beloved. You are his precious creation. Jesus knows what it feels like to experience pain, grief, loss, death, sickness, anger, and trial. To have a God who loves his people so much that he would take his son and send him to walk the trials of human life is beyond me. But He did and that means that the triune God deeply understands our pain. This encounter of Mary and Jesus in John is an invitation to take your troubles to the feet of Jesus. Only there can you find true peace, comfort, and rest.
Last, but not least, we turn to John 12:1-8 & Mark 14:3-9. Here, we see two different scriptural depictions of the same scene. Mary, once again, is at the feet of Jesus. But this time, she breaks a bottle of very expensive perfume. So costly was this gift that it would have been worth a year’s salary for a day laborer. She lavishly pours it over Jesus’ head and feet. She lets down her hair and uses it to wipe his feet. What we see here is a picture of deep devotion to her Lord and Savior. This scene takes place right before Holy Week. Within a few days, Jesus will march towards the cross. And Mary, somehow, knows what all the disciples have missed…that Jesus is not going to be with them much longer. Armed with this knowledge, Mary gives all she has to display her deep love for Jesus. The disciples in the room are not pleased. One, letting down your hair in public is a big no-no. If married, this is grounds for divorce. If single, Mary could be stoned for this behavior. It’s also worth noting that John 11 ends with the announcement that anyone who knows where Jesus is should report him to the authorities. Judas is particularly angry at what he perceives as a waste of such an expensive gift. He says, “the perfume could have been sold and given to the poor.”
Here we see Mary, risking arrest, risking death, and taking probably her most expensive possession and pouring it on Jesus; her teacher, her friend, her Lord, and soon to be the Savior of the whole world. And when others judge her for this costly, sacrificial, and extravagant gift, Jesus says the most beautiful sentiments to this most unlikely of disciples. Look in Mark 14:6-9.
“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
Can you even imagine? Mary, who is powerless and unworthy in the eyes of law and man, has just anointed the savior of the whole world and is told that this singular act of devotion will be remembered whenever the gospel is preached. She did what she could – Jesus’s exact words. I will leave you with that thought. Are you taking yourself, your whole being to Jesus? When you sit with him at his feet are you expressing deep, costly, sacrificial devotion to Him? If you are not, then maybe reflect back on these scriptures of Mary of Bethany. To know someone, even God, is to sit with them, to spend time learning from their ways and their teachings. Truly sitting with someone implies the ability to lament, to share concerns and trials, to bear each other’s pain. You are not going to deeply pour out your life for someone you don’t know. The same is true of God. If you are not sitting at his feet in your daily life, it will be difficult to convince your heart to follow him with deep devotion. May we all strive to live life like the beautiful disciple, Mary of Bethany. A Life lived at the feet of Jesus.
Post written by Jessica Delp
Sources: The NIV Application Commentary Luke & John by Darrell L. Bock & The Reformed Expository Commentary John Volume 2 by Richard D. Phillips & She Did what She Could by Elisa Morgan