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TEXT: John 12:1-9
SUBJECT: Women of the New Testament #8: Mary of Bethany
Martha and Mary are often thought of as polar opposites. Martha, it is supposed, is active, but not very perceptive; Mary is thoughtful, but not too practical. Such a contrast, however, is unfair to both ladies.
It is true that Martha was more practical than her sister, but (as her conversation at the tomb reveals) she was nobody's "dummy". She had studied and thought hard about her theology.
And Mary, though more reflective than her sister, was also quite busy in the Lord's service.
And so, the contrast is false, but it does indicate each woman's emphasis in life.
Many good things can be said about Mary; she was astute, faithful, loving, and hospitable. But the one trait that (I think) stands out and pulls the others together is this: Mary was content. And this is no small virtue. For dissatisfaction with life is rebellion against the LORD and makes good works all but impossible. But "contentment" is "great gain"; and "the one thing needful" for a God-honoring life.
"Contentment", of course, is to be satisfied with what you have. It is the opposite of covetousness, greed, worry, and envy. It is, moreover, a fixed state of mind, and not just an occasional impulse. And finally, it is not based on "what we have", but on God and His Providence.
A content person surrenders to an all-wise Providence--and gives thanks for it--whatever it supplies or withholds.
Mary was content, firstly, with what she had. John tells us that she "took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard...and anointed the feet of Jesus". Later we learn its exact value: "300 denarii". This translates into a year's wages. Mary and her family appear to be "middle-class". The gift, by our standards, then, was worth between $25,000 and $50,000!
But in giving this to Christ, we find no hesitation in Mary; no begrudging; and no later regret. She was happy to give it. And probably wished she could do more! "What shall I render unto the LORD for all His benefits toward me?" She is what Paul meant, when he wrote, "God loves a cheerful giver".
This grace cannot be stressed too much. For "the love of money--remains--"the root of all evil". It is, furthermore, a sin easy to camouflage, and so often "respectable" in the church.
But not in the Courts of Heaven! There are few sins about which God is more critical. It is apostasy. "For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows".
And it is ruinous to yourself--"pierced through with many sorrows"--; and your family. "He that is greedy of gain troubles his own house". It makes a man ineligible for church membership--for the "covetous man, like the adulterer and extortioner must be purged" from the assembly. It hinders the work of God in the world--as missionary and other endeavors are sacrificed for bigger homes, better furniture, newer cars, and the like. And finally, it dishonors the name of God as nothing else!
"Let your conversations be without covetousness,
and be content with what you have,
for He has said, I will never leave or forsake you".
Mary, happily, was free from this lust. "I know how to abound and how to be abased...I have learned, it whatever state I am, therewith to be content". This is a lesson we all need to learn. May God so teach us.
Mary was, in the second place, content with who she was. Never on earth had a nobler assembly gathered. Sitting in the home of Simon that day was Christ, His Apostles, Lazarus, and no doubt other men of high repute.
What privileges these men had! The Apostles would become the "foundation" of the Church. Perhaps some of the Evangelists were there too, men who preached the kingdom, cast out devils, and performed astonishing miracles. Lazarus certainly was there, and by virtue of his resurrection, had become widely renowned.
But Mary was not among this worthy company, was she? She was a woman, and so held no office in the church, preached no sermons, did no miracles, and so attracted little or no attention.
But she didn't care! Her interest was in serving Christ where she was, not in grasping after a higher place, from which her sex excluded her. This is especially revealing in Mary's case. For she was--quite frankly--a better Christian than anyone else in that room! She listened to Christ more carefully than any of the Apostles did. Hence, her knowledge was far superior to their's. And she was of more practical service too. For it was Mary who "anointed the Lord for His burial"--and no one else.
Oh how discontent and envy might have raged in her breast. She was obviously better qualified to preach and perform miracles than any of these men. Yet she was shut out of these privilege for no other reason than she was a woman!
But no such tumult occurred. Jesus praised her by saying, not: "She aspired to do what she shouldn't--or that you men should have done", but "She did what she could". She was content with her station in life. Because it was God--not a conspiracy of men--who had put her there.
This too, is a lesson to be learned, especially by gifted women. Dear lady, if you know ten times what your husband does, give thanks--but still "submit yourself to your own husband". And if you know a hundred times more than your pastor, rejoice--but still "obey him that has the rule over you..."
If I have described you, dear lady--smarter or more spiritually minded--than your husband, father, pastor, or other authority figures, then listen carefully: God is testing you by this uncomfortable Providence. He wants to know if you respect His authority or not. If not, you will complain about your man's stupidity, his carnality, his impulsiveness, etc. But if so, you'll submit yourself to him for no other reason that this: "there is no power but of God and the powers that be are ordained of God".
A submissive woman is not an ignoramus, a fool, or a doormat. She is a "Daughter of Sarah".
In the third place, Mary was content with a good conscience. When accused by Judas and the others of being "wasteful", she offers no defense of her actions. She saw no need of it. She knew that Christ knew why she had done it--not to show off, but to "prepare (Him) for His burial". And the Lord's approval was all she wanted.
Mary, in other words, sought to please Christ--and not public opinion. Here too, she serves as a role model. A couple of examples will do:
1.Public opinion stresses the woman's outward appearance. Christ calls for the "adorning of the hidden person of the heart". Here a woman is faced with a choice: please Christ or please others. Now one, of course, does not nullify the other. But there is no doubt as to where the priority should be. I wonder how many women (and girls) get it right?
2.Some Christian opinion stresses the woman's submission to her husband to the point of discouraging her own studies and devotional life. But Christ commands all believers to "Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior". And so, once again, the woman is left to choose: will she commend herself to Christ or to the prevailing opinion of her church?
And so Mary sought a good conscience over a good standing in society. I wonder if the same can be said of us?
In the final place, Mary was content with Christ's wisdom. Over the recent months, Jesus had often spoken of the "death He would die". But not everyone was happy about this God-breathed doctrine. Some, like Peter, would bawl Him out for it. And all would do their level best to prevent it. In short, these well-intentioned people had preferred their own opinions to those of Christ.
This seems to have applied to every last disciple...except Mary. She could not have understood the full implications of Christ's death. But she knew that He insisted on it, and so, would be content with it. Hers was an inquisitive mind...and a submissive one, too.
"Speak, Lord, for thy servant hears".
This is a valuable lesson for all. We must accept what the Bible says, not what we want it to say. This may mean giving up long-held opinions and much loved doctrines. But what is this, compared to the acquisition of the truth.
And so we must submit every doctrine, every opinion, every idea to the spotlight of God's word and be ready to renounce whatever is false and adopt whatever is true. No matter the cost.
"Buy the truth and sell is not"
...was more than a cliche to Mary. It was her lifelong habit.
Mary was an aspirant. She was content with what she had and what she was. Did she end up the loser by not grasping?
You tell me: "Wherever this Gospel is preached throughout the whole world, what this woman did will also be spoken of as a memorial to her".
Thus, spiritually speaking, the best way to "get what you want" is to "be content with what you have".
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