Mary of Bethany (Fr. Varghese Paul, S.J.)

There are seven women by name Mary in the New Testament. Here we I shall try to portray Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. This Mary is known as Mary of Bethany. The two sisters Martha and Mary and their brother Lazarus were intimate friends of Jesus. Jesus found a home away from home in the house and in the company of Lazarus and the two sisters Martha and Mary.

Only the evangelists Luke and John mention the two sisters Martha and Mary by name. Lukes account of Jesus visit to their house is very short and precise.

As Jesus and his disciples went on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha welcomed him in her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat down at the feet of the Lord and listened to his teaching. Martha was upset over all the work she had to do, so she came and said, Lord, dont you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to come and help me! The Lord answered her, Martha, Martha! You are worried and troubled over so many things, but just one is needed. Mary has chosen the right thing, and it will not be taken away from her(Lk 10, 38-42).

This short account of Luke is very telling about the character of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary is portrayed as a loving and contemplative person while her sister Martha is a hospitable busy-bee and intolerant housekeeper.

Martha has complained to Jesus against her sister Mary that she did not help her in the household task of hospitality to Jesus. But Jesus defended Mary saying that she has chosen the better part by sitting at Jesus feed and listening to him while Martha was too busy preparing and serving food for their guest Jesus.

We get a much more detailed account of the two sisters in the Gospel of St. John. Only John has narrated the miracle of Jesus bringing back to life Lazarus who has been death for 4 days.

The two sisters Martha and Mary called Jesus to come while their brother and Jesus intimate friend, Lazarus was sick.

By the time Jesus and his disciples came to Bethany, the house of his 3 friends, Lazarus has been death and buried for 4 days. When Jesus came, like her sister Martha, Mary said to Jesus: Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died(Jn 11, 32).

Mary and her sister Martha expressed their faith in Jesus almost in same words that their brother Lazarus would not have died if Jesus were to be at Bethany with them while Lazarus was sick. Jesus rewarded the faith of the two sisters, Martha and Mary by a miracle of bringing their beloved brother Lazarus back to life.

Mary appears again in Johns Gospel together with her brother Lazarus and sister Martha when they play host to Jesus in their house six days before the Jewish Passover feast. During the dinner while Jesus and Lazarus were at table, Mary does an unexpected and unusual thing of anointing Jesus with a very expensive perfume.

Then Mary took half a litre of a very expensive perfume, made of pure nard, poured it on Jesus feet, and wiped them with her hair. The sweet smell of the perfume filled the whole house. One of Jesus disciples, Judas Iscariot the one who was going to betray him said, Why wasnt this perfume sold for three hundred silver coins 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 help himself from it. But Jesus said, Leave her alone! Let her keep what she has for the day of my burial. You will always have poor people with you, but you will not always have me(Jn 12, 3-8).

It is interesting to note in this narration that, while the people around saw Marys action as a waste of valuable perfume and a lost opportunity to sell the costly perfume and help the poor with the money generated, Jesus recognized Marys love for and faith in him. So he has not only defended Mary but he has also praised her for annointing him for the day of his burial.

A similar story of a woman annointing Jesus in the house of Simon the Pharisee at Bethany has been recorded by the Evangelists Mathew (Mt 26, 6-13) and Mark (Mk 14, 3-9). But in the accounts of Mathew and Mark the person annointing Jesus is not named but identified simply as a woman. Though some people say that Mary of Bethany is the same person as the nameless womans annointing Jesus in the house of Simon the Pharisee, most biblical scholars believe that they are not one and the same woman.

Certainly Mary of Bethany is a great woman who was praised by Jesus that she did what she could do.(contact the author: यह ईमेल पता spambots से संरक्षित किया जा रहा है. आप जावास्क्रिप्ट यह देखने के सक्षम होना चाहिए. )

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