Monday of Holy Week: Mary of Bethany Reflection - Revd Dr Fiona Haworth

Bible Reading: John 12:1-11

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them* with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii* and the money given to the poor?’ (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it* so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’

When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.                                                                                             (NRSV)


In works of art, we see an imaginative approach to the interpretation of biblical texts.  This same work of imagination can also be applied in a narrative approach to biblical stories.  This is the approach used here, reflecting on the events portrayed in the bible passage above from the point of view of Mary of Bethany. 


Mary of Bethany

It was not planned.  Even looking back after it all unfolded, tracing patterns, I cannot say that I knew that I would do it.  Martha tells me often that I am too impulsive.  She knows me well, better even than Jesus does.

It was meant to be a celebration; a meal offered in thanksgiving for our brother Lazarus restored to us.  But nothing seemed to go as smoothly as it should.  Some people we expected to be there found themselves otherwise engaged.  Martha grew thoughtful over declined invitations but invited others to compensate.  Where she found the guests, I do not know.  She still surprises me.

And then the disciples arrived, uneasy, splintering into groups for muttered conversations.  I thought I overheard Peter talking about a weapon.  It was unsettling.

Jesus was just as he always is with us; easy, gentle, teasing Martha about the food, asking me to tell him something new I’d learned. 

The atmosphere was strained though and although we were there in thanksgiving for my brother’s life, it somehow smelt of death.

I think that’s why I did it; I needed to banish the stench of the grave that threatened to overwhelm me.   The perfume was rich and heavy, fit for a king, all enveloping, his calloused feet rough under my hands and shameful, unbound hair.

Judas protested the waste, of course.  As if Jesus wasn’t the poorest of the poor already, no home, no place to lay his head, even laid to rest in a borrowed tomb.  It frightened me to hear Jesus speak so openly of his death.

I am thankful that I did it though, was thankful even as it all unfolded.  I hope that he could still smell traces of the perfume through that awful day and night; remember that he was loved, cared for, honoured.  Knowing there was no time to do things properly afterwards, Martha and I took some small comfort from what I had done.  And from what he and Martha had said, before my brother’s grave, her statement of faith and trust in him as resurrection and as life, putting into words what I could only reach for through my actions.  We both served him in our different ways that night, as he served others after. 

And now he lives again, and we do too, responding to his call to us, to you.  Each flourishing in the rich soil of his love; growing into what he always knew we could become.  Martha, deep rooted, steady, sure, an olive tree that protects and shelters; me a vine, growing wildly in fits and starts, needing pruning, tending, checking; but both of us bearing our different fruits alongside all the others that labour in his garden to build his kingdom here and always.


Loving God,
Jesus found love and friendship
in the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus,
a place of shelter and respite in his wonderings.
May our hearts be places of love and friendship,
reaching out to those in need,
offering company and conversation,
using technology wisely;
that out of this time of forced isolation
the ties that bind us,
one to another,
may be strengthened and enriched.
In Jesus name.