Tag Archives: discipleship

Mary of Bethany: A Heart that Learns (Part 2)

Standard

Let’s take a look at Mary in her first encounter with Jesus. We meet her in Bethany, a small town 2 miles east of Jerusalem in Judea.

city of bethany

This is a sketch of what Bethany *might* have looked like. Notice how small it is.

If you’re keeping track of Jesus’ timeline, we are in the latter part of His ministry in which He has completed His tours in Galilee and has already headed south toward Jerusalem.

Luke 10:38-42

38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.

Normally, the women would be doing exactly what Martha was doing! Martha was plying her trade! She was being hospitable, a GOOD Jewish woman, taking care of her guests.

jesus-mary-martha

And then there was Mary. Mary who sat at the Lord’s feet WITH THE OTHER MEN and listened to His teaching. Remember, women weren’t considered worthy of receiving the Word of God or instruction in the Scriptures! Jesus defends Mary and says she has chosen the good portion. When I read that, the part about the “good portion”, it made me very curious. What does it really mean?

The Greek word is meris and means, well, “portion”! Ha! It can also mean “assigned part”. Remember when the Israelites were going into the Promised Land that God had assigned each tribe a portion in that Land that they could call their own. The word in Luke 10:42 meris is the same word used in Genesis 43:34 about Benjamin’s portions at Joseph’s table:

Portions were taken from Joseph’s table but Bejamin’s portion was five times as many as any of theirs…

And also in Deut. 12:12:

You shall rejoice before the LORD, you and your sons and…the Levite in your towns, since he has no portion or inheritance with you.

Jesus had assigned her the right to sit among the men and be His disciple. I kinda wonder if His defense of Mary wasn’t just for Martha but also for every MALE ear listening to the exchange, wondering the same thing as Mary sat among themJesus was giving her the opportunity to be a disciple of the Rabbi Jesus. To sit and learn and imitate the Teacher. She could soak in His teaching. Take on His yoke. For the first time in her life, she could learn of God first hand.

The second account we read of Mary with Jesus is of the  death and resurrection of Lazarus:

John 11:1-6

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister MarthaIt was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it. Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and LazarusSo, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Wait, shouldn’t that read when He heard that Lazarus was ill, [HE WENT TO THEM RIGHT AWAY]?

My husband Eric likes to play a game when reading Scripture sometimes called “what comes next?” He’ll read part of a passage, usually a Psalm (one that I’m not usually familiar with), and leave off the second half of the verse. He’ll ask me what I think comes next. And most times, I have NO idea. Then he’ll finish the verse, and the train of thought is usually WAY different from what I was thinking it would say. It’s the same for verse 6! You’d think Jesus would go right away to help, seeing that He loved them. But He doesn’t show His love in this way.

And there’s a very specific reason – for the glory of God and the Son of God to be glorified.

We read further about Mary in:

John 11:17-20

17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house.

Martha is the one who rushes out to Jesus while Mary stays behind in the house. (Why did she stay back? Were her feelings hurt? Surely she wasn’t pouting?)

John 11:28-36

28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jewswho were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he as deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!

Jesus, after speaking with Martha, had called for Mary. Did you catch that? The Rabbi called for his disciple. She immediately goes and in her utter grief, falls at His feet, the same ones where she had sat listening to His teaching, and it is here that she cries out to Him. We always seem to find Mary. She’s always at His feet. Sitting there. Rushing there. Falling there. Anointing there.

It’s after Mary’s display of grief that we see Jesus’ reaction to their sadness.

Deeply moved.  **not splagnon**

This phrase comes from the word that meant to snort with anger as in the snort of a horse (in war or in a race). For humans it describes outrage, fury, or anger. (From *NIVAC on John) How interesting that Jesus’ response resembles how we feel when someone has been severely wronged, creating in us an indignation or righteous anger. Jesus is angry at death itself and the devastation that it brings. (From *NIVAC)

Death, where is your sting? O yes, I’m coming for you.

Greatly troubled.

This phrase meant to cause inward commotion, to take away His calmness of mind, to disquiet, to make restless, to render distressed, and to perplex the mind by suggesting doubts. There was a twisting in His core, producing in Him a distress that took away His peace of mind. And He is racked with tears and His own grief. It’s not that Jesus was unaware of Lazarus’ death, and being caught off guard, He weeps. On the contrary, He knew what would happen, and it was when He saw Mary’s grief, and the Jews’ grief, that He is moved to tears.

Jesus wept.

See how He loved them!

After Jesus raises Lazarus, we see that Mary is the one associated with the believing Jews based on v. 45.

John 11:45

45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him.

The final passage of our Mary is the one which John references in the Lazarus story, just one chapter later, about Mary anointing Jesus’ feet in John 12. We didn’t read the Lukan account found in 7:36-50. As we’ve already learned, the story in Luke concerning the “sinful woman” anointing Jesus is not the same account found in Matthew, Mark, and John.

Allow me take a brief moment to explain a few facts and dispel a few myths concerning some of the women in the New Testament.

This is what I like to call Mary does not = _____.

Mary of Bethany is not the “sinful woman” who washed Jesus’ feet in Luke 7. The reasons for this include:

  • Luke’s account is much earlier in his gospel story, indicating that it happened earlier in Jesus’ ministry. Our account found in the other 3 gospels happens right before His death.
  • The second reason is that the woman in Luke is referred to as a “sinner” and Mary of Bethany seems to have a glowing reputation.
  • Thirdly the message that Jesus gives is completely different in Luke, which is one about forgiveness while Matthew, Mark, and John talk about His burial.

There is no reason NOT to believe that there were 2 instances in which Jesus had His head and/or feet anointed.

Also to note, Mary of Bethany is not Mary Magdalene. Mary of Bethany is from BETHANY. Mary Magdalene is from MAGDALA.

Mary of Bethany is also not the woman caught in adultery in John 8. This woman is anonymous, and Mary is always named as being from Bethany or as Martha’s sister. In other words, NOT ANONYMOUS.

She’s also not Mary, the Mother of Jesus, Mary, the wife of Clopas, or my Aunt Mary. 🙂

Continuing on, we read of Mary anointing her Rabbi’s feet with oil.

John 12:1-8

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany,where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep itfor the day of my burialFor the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.

We are now as close to the final week of Jesus’ ministry as we can get. Bethany is very close to Jerusalem (Scripture notes it is only about 2 miles away). The Mount of Olives is nestled in between the two cities. The Garden of Gethsemane is also right outside of Jerusalem in the Kidron Valley. We are only days away from the cross.

Mary at Jesus feet

Now, why this anointing? What reasons did they have for anointing a person?

In the Gospels, anointing was associated with healing, the celebration of meals, hospitality, and the burial of Jesus. In the OT the anointing of the head was associated with the consecration of kings and of priests and prophets. The term “messiah” has the literal meaning “anointed one.” So in Mark, when Mary anoints Jesus during the meal, she is portrayed as a prophetic figure, since her act of anointing Jesus’ head alludes to his kingship, which is revealed at His death. She was showing that He is the Messiah, the ANOINTED ONE.

Then also in John, our passage this week, the writer wants to show Mary’s act of anointing Jesus’ feet as her way of identifying Him as the suffering Messiah, preparing Him for His death. (Mt. 26 and Mk 13)

The mention in John of the perfume’s scent spreading through the home is reminiscent of the scent of the sacrifices pleasing to God, thus alluding to the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ death. (From Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels)

Perhaps Mary anointed Jesus out of her love for Him because of what He did for her brother.

Mary’s actions stand in stark contrast to Judas. The betrayer! The thief! I’m sure you noticed that John really picks on Judas much more than the other gospel writers. Mary seemed to be the only one who understood that Jesus was going to die AND be raised. That He was the long-awaited Messiah. You may recall that the gospel writers indicate that the 12 did not understand that Jesus was going to die. In fact in Luke 18:31-34 it says that after Jesus predicted His death a 3RD TIME, they,

did not understand any of this. They did not know what He was talking about. (NIV)

 

But Mary? She had learned well. All those moments spent at the feet of Jesus had transformed her view. She had tasted the Word become flesh and it was like the sweetest honey. She had reached out to touch the Scroll of God. The Word of God. She had seen the goodness of God in what He spoke and how He lived, raising her brother from death. Mary anointed Him because that was only fitting for a king about to face His death. Perhaps she knew that even He might raise from the dead, just as He’d raised Lazarus. She understood that true leadership was in service and love to others. Mary modeled this to Jesus as she anointed Him, becoming a servant like her Rabbi.

Interestingly, and not by coincidence, what happens next is the Last Supper, in which Jesus Himself, the Rabbi, washes the feet of His own disciples, wiping them with the towel just as Mary wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair. John seemed to indicate that Jesus elevated Mary’s service to Him as He imitated her selfless act of anointing Him. He wanted them to do as He did. To be servants to one another, just as Mary had served Him. She had learned well.

Mary of Bethany could say something about herself that many Jewish women could not say at that time.

I am a disciple of the Rabbi Jesus.

I believe in the Rabbi. He’s not just a Teacher – He is God! He’s the Messiah, the Anointed One! I believe He is the resurrection and the Life, the only way to salvation. I will follow my Rabbi wherever He goes. I will be an exact representation of the Rabbi so that the world may know who He is!

She had expressed her faith in the Messiah as she poured out the oil over His feet, proclaiming that He was indeed the King, promised long ago. The oil permeated the room like a poignant message testifying to the truth of the Gospel. Yes, He was going to die, but even more Yes, He is the Promised Messiah come to give them Life.

What about you? Can you call yourself a disciple of the Rabbi Jesus? Are you covered in the dust of your Rabbi? A reflection of Jesus to the world. Do you realize the blessing it is that you have been called by Jesus Himself to be His representative? To take on His yoke, to bear His teaching?

Mary knew it. And she now speaks to us to live out our faith just as she lived out her’s. To go and make disciples, not to mirror us, but to be a reflection of the Rabbi. To spread His yoke, to pour out the honey, to hold out the scroll. To be covered in the dust of the Rabbi.

[Please note that, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture comes from the ESV translation.]

Below is the live talk at my church:

 

Advertisements

Mary of Bethany: A Heart that Learns

Standard

When you hear the word disciple, what comes to mind? I think of my time spent discipling believers and being discipled. I also think of The Twelve? Or Jesus’ words “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27)? Or you might think of yourself as a disciple. Perhaps you even think of discipleship, making disciples, etc.

What would you think if I told you that discipleship in ancient times was a very serious undertaking both for the Teacher and for the Disciple, and it involved more dedication than what we think of (or practice) today? What if discipleship had its roots way back to Socrates and even before his philosophical era? Now, I hope I have you interested (and not bored!). And I also hope you’re wondering what in the world this might have to do with Mary of Bethany. I’m so glad you asked! I would like to take you through a short (ha!) history of discipleship so that you can see why it is so important for understanding our Mary and her interactions with Jesus.

The word disciple in English means follower, adherent, or student of a great master, religious leader or teacher. The Greek word is mathetes and the Hebrew words are talmid and limmud. (Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels)

Sanzio_01_Plato_Aristotle  School of Athens by Raphael

One example of a well-known teacher and disciple in the Greek culture would be Plato and Aristotle. Here is a picture of Raphael’s fresco entitled “School of Athens” where you see the two men walking along discussing their philosophies. Aristotle was well-known for his peripatetic teaching (which simply meant, walking along as he taught), and we see this demonstrated in Raphael’s painting. You see all the people gathered in this area, indicating desire for knowledge.

By the time Jesus arrives on the scene, the term mathetes was most commonly used in the sense of adherent, or follower of a great thinker or devotee of a religious master. Within Judaism of the 1st century individuals were known as “disciples” if they were adherents or followers committed to a recognized leader, teacher or movement.

rabbis

Here is a picture of Jewish rabbis most likely immersed in a religious discussion. The best example of a Jewish disciple-teacher relationship would be Paul under Gamaliel studying as a Pharisee. Other examples included the more radical religious groups that tried to raise up zealot-like nationalists. (From Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels)

Remember what I said about the pious Jews and their thirst for the knowledge of God? Wilkins writes, “Pharisaism was at heart, though tragically miscarried, a movement for righteousness. It was this concern for righteousness that drove the Pharisees to their legalism with such a passion.”

Ray Vander Laan (a Bible teacher who teaches in the Holy Land) has a video on this topic called In the Dust of the Rabbi, and in his definition of talmid he explains that being a disciple is not just someone who wants to know what the rabbi knows, it’s someone who wants to be who the rabbi is.

Now in 1st century Palestine, to become a disciple, the student started very young. Boys attended Torah school when they were ages 6-10. This part of their schooling was called Bet Sefer (or House of the Book). They would have a Rabbi, or teacher, who taught the Torah, or first 5 books of the bible. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.

On the first day of class the rabbi would take honey and would cover their slate where they would write. Honey was a sign of God’s favor. You may recall the image of the Promised Land as one “flowing with milk and honey.” As he rubbed the honey all over their slate he would say, “Now class, lick the honey off the slate and off your fingers.” And as they did this the rabbi would say, “May the words of God be sweet to your taste, sweeter than honey to your mouth” (Psalm 119:103). May the words of God be the most pleasurable, the most enjoyable thing you could even comprehend.

In addition to this they ate a honey cake (inscribed with the words  “The Lord God gave me a skilled tongue to know [Isaiah 50:4-5]). And they would also eat a boiled egg (with the words written on it “Mortal feed your stomach and fill your belly with this scroll and I ate it and it tasted as sweet as honey to me [Ezekiel 3:3]). So these Jewish children were raised to cherish the words of God as the most important thing in all of their lives. To savor it. To taste the Word. (From a *Shavuot article by Rabbi Golinkin)

They would learn the Hebrew alphabet (if they hadn’t already learned it in their homes) and would learn to read the Torah in both Hebrew and Aramaic. And they would memorize the first 5 books of the bible by the time they were 10 years old. How many of you can say you’ve memorized a verse in the OT? What about a chapter in the OT? How about the first 5 books? No one has Leviticus memorized? I’m so surprised! Neither have I! That equals out to 187 chapters and more than 5800 verses! (5,853 in NAB) That is some insane dedication!

SCROLL

Another thing the rabbi did in their first year is he would take the scroll (the scroll was what the Scriptures were written on. Remember they didn’t have the Gutenberg press. In fact each scroll contained only a chapter or a short book from the Hebrew Bible. The scrolls were housed in the Temple at Jerusalem. This meant that they would circulate these scrolls so that they could get the full Bible read throughout the land. No one had the full Scriptures except maybe the very wealthy. So these scrolls were precious).  (From the article *Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine by Catherine Hezser)

So the rabbi would take this scroll, unfold it, and hold it up in view of all the students. As it passed the students, they would reach out and touch the scroll, and they would kiss it.

You might say, they grew up in a culture of a LOVE for God’s Word.

According to some sources, there was a second school called Bet Midrash, which translated meant House of Study. Only the best male students would go to this school from age 10-14.

If they weren’t one of the “best” students, they would go home, and they would “ply your trade”. Simply put this means that if you were a girl, you learned to be a wife and mother. If you were a boy, you learned your father’s trade. Peter and Andrew, James and John all learned their father’s trade: fishing.

In Bet Midrash they had quite the task set out before them of memorizing the entire rest of the Scriptures! That is a total of another 1,074 chapters and over 27,500 verses (27,570). Everything else…from Joshua all the way to Malachi! That’s a GRAND TOTAL of 1,261 chapters and over 33,300 verses.

The Rabbi also had a very different way of teaching than what we are used to today. Rather than asking questions and expecting to get answers from their disciples, the rabbi would teach the art of learning by asking questions and having them respond with questions.  (similar to the Socratic Method)

This is why we see Jesus at age 12 in the Temple in Mark 2:46,

they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.

At the end of their study, if one was found to be a promising student, he would enter what is known as Bet Rabbi around age 13-14. Here is how it happened:

The student would go and present himself to a well-known respected, rabbi. And he would say, “Rabbi, I want to become your disciple. Please let me in your Bet Midrash.” Then the rabbi would ask him lots of questions, to find out if he was the best of the best. Because each rabbi wanted to teach his thinking, his philosophy, his interpretation of Scripture. Do you know what this was called? It was called his yoke. This rabbi wants to know, when he is questioning this possible disciple, “Is this boy able to become a rabbi himself and to teach and spread my yoke?” Remember in Matthew 11:28 when Jesus told the people:

Come unto Me all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

And if the rabbi believed that this student was the best of the best, that he was able to become a rabbi, He would say, “Come, follow me.” Sound familiar? The boy would then leave his family. Leave his village. Leave the local synagogue where he had been studying to follow that rabbi. He would become a talmid, a disciple, a student. This boy would give his life to being exactly like that rabbi and would follow him everywhere.

The Mishnah rabbis would tell their disciples, “May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi.” It was because a rabbi would come to the village and these talmidim would be following right behind him. Since the roads were dusty these disciples would get covered with the dust of their rabbi. In fact they wanted to be so much like their rabbi that when he would pick up a piece of straw and put it in his mouth then they would too. If he washed his hands a certain way, they would mimic the way he washed his hands. If he ate his food a certain way, they ate like him. They would learn his gestures, his voice inflections, his teachings. And they would follow this rabbi everywhere. Because the rabbi believed that they could be like him.

So you see the student chose the Rabbi under whom he wished to learn, thus becoming that Rabbi’s disciple. And the goal was to be exactly like your Rabbi.

The rabbis would not seek out anyone to teach the Scriptures. There was a Rabbinic disdain for the masses which resulted in limited disciple circles. There was a saying among the teachers “Like the thighs of a woman, Torah was to be kept covered in public.” And this was because of fear of casting pearls before swine. (From an article in *Neotestamentica p. 245)

But what does Jesus do?

Jesus completely reverses the Rabbi-disciple exchange. Jesus, the Rabbi, calls the disciple rather than waiting for a disciple to come to Him. In fact, He beckons for all to come to Him! It wasn’t just the spiritual elite who could be a disciple. The one who had made it through to the Bet Midrash. He was calling for anyone to come to Him. Remember His words:

Whoever wants to be My disciples… (Mt. 16:24; Mk 8:34; Lk 14:33)

You did not choose Me, I chose you… (Jn 15:16)

Come to Me, ALL who are weary and burdened…(Mt. 11:28)

He went to Andrew and Peter, James and John, the fishermen, who had already been told they didn’t make the cut as a disciple, who were already plying their trade, and He called them to follow Him. He chose the fisherman and tax collector. And more amazingly, He chose women!

Jesus-and-his-disciples-from-movie-Son-fo-God

Ah, yes, here is where our Mary comes in. You noticed in all of the information you heard regarding discipleship, not once was a girl given the chance to learn in Bet Sefer much less go on to Bet Midrash. Remember Jewish men thanked God that they were not “a gentile, an outsider, or a woman.” (From *Neotestamentica p. 244) Not once could she be considered by a Rabbi as a disciple. She was supposed to go home and learn how to be a homemaker. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that (!) Jesus chose women to be His disciples as well! To be a learner. An adherent to the Master. One who was called to be exactly like the Rabbi.

[Stay tuned next week for part 2 on Mary of Bethany (I know it was just getting good!)]