HOUSMAIL HM#141 - MARY -- SISTER OF LAZARUS AND MARTHA September 2013
Matthew 26:6-13;Matthew and Mark tell us that Jesus regarded this as a particularly important “Gospel Incident” -- important enough to say “Wherever the Gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her”. (Matthew 26:13; Mark 14:13 RSV)
I read these words from Jesus as an instruction to preachers! He wants this story included as an essential element of the Gospel of the Kingdom -- NOT an optional extra!
Read it carefully! If we take Jesus literally, he is saying that:
1. The Gospel of the Kingdom of God has not been preached adequately, until this story has been told.There are some who claim that the incident in Luke is about a DIFFERENT event to that described in the other three Gospels. They claim that there are differences in Luke, compared with the other three. However, I discount that. The so called “differences” don’t really exist if we read Luke complimentary to the other three – not contradictory.
Although it is not the main point of the story, we should take note that what Jesus said about it, provides us with one of the markers of an authentic Gospel! It was to be told “wherever the Gospel is preached”!
Many ancient manuscripts have been found which claim to be “gospels”, but for various reasons, they have not been included in the Canon of Scripture. I don’t recommend you waste time reading them, but if you ever do, you will find that, for anyone familiar with the four in our Bibles, these others are easily dismissed as frauds. And it is interesting to note that, apart from any other problems, one thing they have in common, is that this story is missing! But, of course, Luke has told it!
So why did Jesus single out this story for such special mention? Why did he want it included in the Gospel “wherever it is preached”?
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE GOSPELS
There are some significant differences in detail. However we can be certain that they are about the same incident. As we just said above, the differences are not contradictory. Rather, we need to add the details together to get the complete picture.
Matthew, Mark, and John mention that some of the onlookers were indignant about what they thought was a waste of money. John identifies the principal complainant as Judas, and says that his REAL motive for complaint was that he was a THIEF who was keeper of the purse, and saw it as a lost opportunity to steal some of it for his own gain. John puts a value on the ointment -- 300 denarii -- about a year’s wages in our values! (No wonder Judas was upset!)
Matthew and Mark mention only that the woman anointed the HEAD of Jesus. Luke and John leave out the detail about anointing the head of Jesus, but tell us that she anointed his FEET, and then wiped them with her hair.
Luke is the only one to tell us that she was a “SINNER” from the city, who was moved to tears. (The sin is not quite specifically named, but it is implied by some modern versions (NEB, NIV) that she was a harlot.) Luke is also the only one to tell us how Jesus exercised His God given authority to FORGIVE her sins.
Luke appears to be chronologically out of place. However this is not necessarily significant. The Gospels are accurate records of WHAT happened - but are not always careful to record events in exact historical sequence.
John is the only one to identify the woman. She was MARY of Bethany, sister of Martha, and of Lazarus, who Jesus raised from the dead. (John 11:1-2)
WHY THE DIFFERENCES?
We can only speculate about that -- but it is probably worth doing that in this case, in order to take the lesson to our own hearts when faced with the same situation in a modern setting. The Gospels of Matthew and Mark and Luke were written much earlier than John. It seems likely that Mary may still have been alive when they were written, and that her name was deliberately omitted to spare her “embarrassment” from immature and insensitive “believers”, who all too often, seem to delight in spreading GOSSIP about such things. (There is a lesson there for us!)
On the other hand, if she was already dead when John’s Gospel was written, there was an opportunity to include some other details, which are quite important to Mary’s wonderful story about her conversion and early discipleship.
WHO WAS SIMON THE LEPER?
Actually he isn’t identified. That isn’t the important issue. It can become a side track which detracts from the main point. What we do know is that:
1. He was the host of the gathering.
2. He didn’t love Jesus!
3. And that meant that Simon WAS NOT FORGIVEN.
4. His lack of love for Jesus was proved by his ACTIONS.
The lesson for us? Our love is proved by what we do for Jesus.
(And also, as we learn from Simon’s case, by what we do not do!)
Lazarus is identified. He is the brother of Martha and Mary. He is the one who Jesus raised from the dead. (John 11;1-44; 12:1) He is the one who the Jews plotted to kill, so that the evidence of a VERY spectacular miracle would be destroyed!
The lesson for us?
First ...... In a “spiritual sense” all of US been raised from “Spiritual death” when we were baptized! (Rom. 6:3-4)
Second ....... in a very literal sense, Jesus has the same power to raise US from the literal dead, at the last day. (John 11:23-27)
WHO WAS THE WOMAN IN THE STORY?
There are some who speculate that the woman in the story was Mary Magdalene. Others think she is one of the several other Marys mentioned in the Gospels. However these speculations all ignore the simple fact that John’s Gospel clearly identifies her as Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus.
“Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.)” (John 11:1-2.)
From Luke we learn that she is the same “woman of the city, who was a sinner” (Luke 7:37) about whom Jesus said “Her sins which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much”. (Luke 7:47)
MARY AND MARTHA
On another occasion when Jesus was visiting, Martha was “distracted with much serving” (Luke 10:42) and Mary was the one who had “chosen the good portion” by neglecting her serving duties “sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to his teaching”.
The lesson for us? We must not allow ourselves to be distracted by our other “duties”. There is NOTHING more important than LISTENING TO JESUS TEACHING. There is a time to let the guests go hungry until Jesus is finished!
MARY’S LOVE FOR JESUS
This is the bottom line! This is the really important reason why Jesus went out of his way to make sure this story would be repeated “wherever the Gospel is preached”.
Certainly his central message was about a future Kingdom on earth! BUT IT ISN”T ONLY THAT! It isn’t ONLY mere information about the future Kingdom! There are commandments about a Way of Life, which MUST be followed to qualify for entry to the kingdom. There are parables with hidden lessons which are revealed only to disciples.
And, there are stories like this one, which remind us that salvation doesn’t come through paying mere lip service to what we know about its future politics and geography, and environment!
If “knowledge” stands alone it will NEVER be enough to motivate us to the LOVE which will result in the REAL repentance and REAL obedience required to prepare us for an inheritance in the Kingdom. We need to learn from Mary that the quality of our own LOVE for Jesus will depend directly on the quality of our appreciation of the extent of our own forgiveness.
How much have we been forgiven?
It is not a question of the number of sins! Nor is it that any particular sins are any worse than others. The real issue is that ALL SINS …….. GREAT OR SMALL …….. have the same “value”. THEY INCUR A DEATH PENALTY, from which we must be pardoned, before we can become heirs of the Kingdom of God.
That is what forgiveness means. Our future immortality, and in life the Kingdom, are at stake. We cannot become heirs until we are forgiven. And we cannot be forgiven until we begin to love Jesus! When we properly appreciate that, then, and only then, like Mary, we will be able to LOVE enough to earn the same approval from Jesus. “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much.” (Luke 7:48)
In Luke’s record of the event, Jesus tells us that REAL love for Jesus comes from an appreciation of just HOW MUCH we have been forgiven! Without that love we will never develop the necessary GRATITUDE which leads to “loving our neighbour as ourself” and thence to keeping Jesus’ commandments.
Mary’s action revealed MUCH LOVE! But for Simon -- “He who is forgiven little loves little”. (Luke 7:47)
Appreciation of our forgiveness is introduced as THE MOTIVE for REAL LOVE for Jesus.
And if we do really love Jesus ……………….
“If ye love me, keep my commandments.”
"If a man love me, he will keep my words:
and my Father will love him,
and we will come unto him,
and make our abode with him."