Missional Women – Mary of Bethany

Nearing the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth, He visits some friends in Bethany where a meal was being prepared in honor of Lazarus. People wanted to see this man whom Jesus raised from the dead and many were present in Bethany. At the meal we are introduced to a woman named Mary whose devotion to Jesus is an example for us all. This event is recorded in John 12:1-11. Warren Wiersbe writes: “The account of Mary’s anointing of her Lord is found also in Matthew 26:6–13 and Mark 14:3–9. But it must not be confused with the account given in Luke 7:36–50, where a former harlot anointed Jesus in the house of Simon the Pharisee. Mary was a virtuous woman, and she anointed Jesus in the house of Simon the (former) leper (Mark 14:3). The Luke 7 event took place in Galilee, while the account we are now considering occurred in Judea. The fact that there are two “Simons” involved should not surprise us, for Simon was a common name in that day. When you combine all three accounts, you learn that Mary anointed both His head and His feet. It was an act of pure love on her part, for she knew her Lord was about to endure suffering and death. Because she sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to Him speak, she knew what He was going to do. It is significant that Mary of Bethany was not one of the women who went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus (Mark 16:1). In a sense, Mary was showing her devotion to Jesus before it was too late. She was “giving the roses” while He was yet alive, and not bringing them to the funeral!”[1]

                The actions of Mary and the contradicting responses of Jesus and His disciples teach us some very valuable lessons on living a missional life.

                The Missional Life is Costly. The ointment that Mary used to anoint Jesus was worth a full year’s wage. It was very valuable. Yet, she poured it all on Jesus as an act of worship and devotion. If you are going to live a missional life, it will cost you something. Actually, it will cost you a great deal. Living for the Lord requires sacrifice. Romans 12:1 says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”[2] A living sacrifice is a life that consistently follows the Lord. It is a life of complete devotion and service to the Kingdom. One who desires to live such a life must be willing to pay the cost.

                What is the cost of living for the Lord? What is the cost of a missional life? I am sure we can make a very exhaustive list of the cost of a missional life. However, just to name a few, a missional life could cost you time, energy, health, fame, personal success, dreams, comfort, luxury, finances, family, and even your life. The missional life is not for the weak of heart. It demands certain sacrifices. It is a life that cannot be lived by one’s own strength. It is a life that requires and relies on the power of the Holy Spirit.

                The Missional Life is a Life of Servitude. Mary got down on her hands and knees and physically put the ointment on the head and feet of Jesus. The fact that she put it on his head shows her acknowledgement that He is king. The fact that she also put it on his feet shows her acknowledgement that she was nothing. She humbled herself in such a way that showed that she understood her unworthiness to be in the presence of Jesus. Her bowing down before Him demonstrated her servant’s heart and her complete devotion to the Lord. The missional life is a life of servitude. It is a life lived not for self but solely for the Lord. What are you living for? Is your life all about you? Are you living for your own comfort or personal gain? Or, are you living for the glory of God and for the furtherance of His Kingdom? Think about it. What is your attitude when you wake up every morning? What is your focus? What is your purpose? Jesus said that we are not to lay up treasures on earth, instead we are to lay up treasures in Heaven. We are not to invest in the things of this world, we are to invest in the things that will last for eternity. We are to invest in the Kingdom of God. Our whole life should be all about serving Jesus. If we are living for any other reason, we have missed the mark of the missional life. A missional life is one that is completely devoted to serving the Lord. It’s all about Jesus. It is a life of servitude.

                The Missional Life is a Life that Breaks the Mold. Mary did something that was unheard of in her day. She let down her hair in public. The Holman Bible Commentary says, “Wiping the oil with her hair was also unusual, for respectable women did not unbraid their hair in public. Mary exhibited unrestrained love and devotion to Jesus that went against personal cost and concern for perception.”[3] Mary broke the mold. She broke away from tradition and did not care what other people thought of her. She just wanted to serve Jesus. The missional life is one that is willing to go against the grain. It is not tied to the traditions of men. One who is living a missional life is not afraid of change or doing something different to serve the Lord and bring others to Him. One who is living a missional life is constantly looking for ways to reach more people for Jesus even if it means breaking the mold.

                The Missional Life is a Noticeable Life. When Mary anointed Jesus with the ointment, the fragrance filled the room. It was noticeable to all that were present. Living a missional life is noticeable. When you are living for the Lord, it puts out a sweetness that draws people to Jesus. Do you know someone that faithfully lives a missional life? When they walk in a room, does the atmosphere change? We should live such a life for the Lord that when we walk in a room, there is a noticeable difference. People should be able to sense the presence of the Lord upon us.

                The Missional Life is a Criticized Life. One of the disciples criticized the fact that what Mary was doing was a waste of money. He thought her investment could have been put to better use. When you live a missional life, you will have critics. There will be those who will question everything you do and oppose you at every turn. Anytime you faithfully live for the Lord there will be opposition. It comes with the territory. Just as they persecuted Jesus, they will persecute you. As you face such criticism remember a couple of things: (1) The criticism does not define who you are. (2) The criticism is not evidence of failure, rather, it is evidence you are doing something right. (3) The criticism has some truth. Learn from it. There will always be criticism when you live a missional life, but it is defiantly worth it.

                The Missional Life is an Honored Life. Jesus defended Mary. He was on her side. What a great honor! The missional life does not attract the praise of men, however, it does attract honor from the Lord. When you live a missional life, God will defend you. He will support you. He will help you. He will honor you. What a wonderful blessing it is to know that God is on your side! It is an honor to serve the Lord.

                Mary of Bethany shows us what living a missional life is all about. May we all follow her example and live a life on mission.

[1] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, pp. 338–339). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[2] The New King James Version. (1982). (Ro 12:1). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] White, J. E. (1998). John. In D. S. Dockery (Ed.), Holman concise Bible commentary (p. 480). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

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