God’s People, part 180: Mary of Bethany

Read Luke 10:38-42

“When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.’”  (John 11:32, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

MaryAointingJesusPart 180: Mary of Bethany. I belong to a group of clergy who meet to preach and discuss preaching before each other. It is a small covenant group that was established to help us all better hone our preaching skills. Like any group of professionals, clergy are always seeking ways to grow in their effectiveness as preachers, teachers and communicators.

Today, as I sit down and write this devotion on Mary of Bethany, I must confess that I was blessed to hear a sermon from a good friend and colleague, Rev. Amanda Rohrs-Dodge, on Martha and Mary of Bethany. The sermon was around the subject of hospitality and that there are really many different forms that hospitality comes in.

As was discussed in the last devotion, Martha and Mary had Jesus over as their guest. In that culture, one that was built on honor, it was a sacred duty to show radical hospitality to one’s guests. Such hospitality included making them feel at home, tending to their every need, preparing a feast, and ensuring that the guest had a safe place to rest and be. That is why, in the Old Testament, people like Lot went to troubling extremes to defend his guests from the towns people who were wanting to have their way with them.

As such, Martha was busy busy being the host, tending to Jesus’ every need and making sure everything was in order, dishes prepared, food cooked, etc. What’s more, when she saw Mary sitting and listening to Jesus rather than helping her with what needed to be done, she complained to Jesus about how unfair it was that Mary wasn’t helping out. She did this to scold her sister and she asked Jesus to send her sister away to help her.

This is where Rev. Amanda’s sermon comes in, because she shed light on an important point that I had never even considered before. While Martha was showing Jesus hospitality through taking on the role of the host, Mary was also showing Jesus hospitality by simply sitting and listening to him. She was showing radical hospitality through being present for Jesus. In fact, the account does not tell us that any one else was doing that. I just mentions that Mary was there listening to him.

Whether there were others or not is beyond the point. We so often look for God to be present with us, we look for Jesus to be present in our lives, but do we ever stop to consider being present for God? After all, what more does God want that a relationship with us? What’s more, how can we have a relationship with God if we are not present for God to have said relationship? Healthy relationships are always a two-way street.

Mary was not perfect at this, by any means. In her moment of grief and despair at the death of her brother, she was angry at Jesus because he wasn’t present for her brother when he was gravely ill. In not being present for her brother, she felt he had abandoned her as well. She wouldn’t have had to grieve and experience the pain death and loss if Jesus had just showed up.

With that said, in her grief she also failed initially to realize that Jesus, too, was grieving the loss of Lazarus. Knowing there is a grander plan in place does not make the death of a loved one any easier. Who was present for Jesus in his pain and in his grief? Yet, relationships are a give and take and Jesus understood why Mary was upset and it grieved him all the more.

Still, when not consumed by grief and despair, Mary was a person who chose to be present for Jesus. She didn’t look for him to serve her, she served him and looked to learn from the One she loved so dearly. That is why, while all the other disciples were missing the point, Mary was the one who anointed Jesus’ feet, an act that symbolically prepared his body and spirit for the brutal death he was about to face. That is why Jesus said that whenever people talk about his death and suffering, they will remember the kindness, compassion, and presence of Mary.

Indeed, this ought to challenge each of us to grow in our hospitality. We ought to be hospitable to others, and we ought to play the part of the host, attending to the physical needs of others. But we also need to balance the inner-Martha with Mary as well. We ought not merely be busy, but take time to actually be present with those we are serving. What’s more, we ought to reflect on how we can show hospitality to ourselves and to God. Let this be our challenge, that we grow from distracted, busy hosts to radically hospitable people.

It is important that we not only show hospitality to other people, but that we show it to the One who first showed it to us. All that requires is our sincere presence.

Lord, You are always present for me, to the point I need not even ask for that. Now, Lord, I want to be present for you as well. Thank you for being in relationship with me and create in me a more hospitable and present spirit. Amen.

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