Mary of Bethany

Mary of Bethany

Six days before Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, home of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  Lazarus and his sisters hosted a dinner for him. Martha served and Lazarus was among those who joined him at the table. Then Mary took an extraordinary amount, almost three-quarters of a pound, of very expensive perfume made of pure nard. She anointed Jesus’ feet with it, then wiped his feet dry with her hair. The house was filled with the aroma of the perfume.  Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), complained,  “This perfume was worth a year’s wages! Why wasn’t it sold and the money given to the poor?” ( He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He carried the money bag and would take what was in it.)

Then Jesus said, “Leave her alone. This perfume was to be used in preparation for my burial, and this is how she has used it.  You will always have the poor among you, but you won’t always have me.”

-John 12:1-8

Download the iPhone Daily Bible Study App to read the week-long series about Mary of Bethany. We discuss her role as a model contemplative, woman of great insight, compassion, and confidence as a disciple of Jesus.

A Woman of Depth

Mary was a woman of great depth, empathy and spiritual connection with God. She was the sister of Martha and of Lazarus. She was compassionate and bold in her connectedness with Jesus. She also led a life of devotion, study and contemplative practices yearning to know her Lord better. Alongside her sister, Mary shared her home with Jesus and his disciples when he needed a place to rest and recharge. Mary shows up in three stories in the Bible, once when Martha asked Jesus to scold Mary for not helping her more, a second time after Lazarus’ death and a the third time is when Mary used an expensive jar of spikenard oil and poured it all out over Jesus’ feet, wiping it up with her hair.

This story of Mary in John 12:1-8 has often been confused with Mary Magdalene, and she has been misunderstood as a woman who was a harlot (apparently since she showed her hair so brazenly). However, it is actually a story of a woman of deep conviction and devotion, acutely spiritually aware of what Jesus was about to endure on the cross. Mary gave all that she had and devoted it all to Jesus in that moment, and for that she is one of the greatest people of faith in the Bible.

A Woman Defended

Jesus saw in Mary a reflection of his own faith and appreciated her for how she understood him.

She simply got it. She got Jesus, and she got what God was up to in the world. This is her greatest legacy as a mother of our faith. She understood deeply when others around her were missing all the cues. What incredible sensitivity and awareness she had!

Jesus came to her defense twice when others objected to her doing the “wrong” thing. Once when Martha complained she wasn’t helping enough, Jesus said: “One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part. It won’t be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:42). And the second time when Judas Iscariot complained she wasted perfume worth a full year's wage. To this Jesus replied: “Leave her alone. This perfume was to be used in preparation for my burial, and this is how she has used it. You will always have the poor among you, but you won’t always have me” (John 12:7-8).

Mary could see what so many missed because she spent time developing a sensitive spirit. She was also given the spiritual gifts of wisdom and knowledge, gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to this day as a way to encourage and edify the church for its mission in the world. Her passion to seek God, her trust in Jesus, and her gifts of wisdom and knowledge led her to be a leader of great insight and power in the earliest church and an example for all disciples to follow.