What is your response when you come into the presence of God? Do you petition for help? Do you come to God and share a meal, fellowshipping with Him and other believers like the disciples and Lazarus did? Are you hospitable Martha, the hands and feet of Christ? Or do you respond to the presence of God as Mary, collapsing at Jesus’ feet to pour and adore?
All of these choices are good and rooted in love. But John 12:1-11 is about time and place, and only Mary correctly discerned the moment.
God created seasons. On His calendar, Passover precedes Pentecost, which precedes the Day of Atonement, which precedes Tabernacles, which precedes Hanukkah… There is a time to mourn. There is a time to dance. There is a time to be silent. There is a time to speak.
Hanukkah precedes Atonement for a light must come out from the bushel to shine.
Likewise for us, there is a time to be Martha, and there is a time to be Mary, for we can never be an effective Martha if we aren’t Mary first. But what did Mary really do that was so appropriate to the time and place?
Song of Solomon 1:3 says, Your name is oil poured out.
Mary experienced the name Jesus over three years. She sat at his feet while He taught. She watched Him raise her brother from death. The complexity and power of His name overwhelmed her that her only response was oil poured out.
She poured out $10,000 on Jesus’ feet. But that wasn’t all. She poured out her understanding of His teaching. This was a burial, after all. Why didn’t anyone else grasp this? She poured out her love and her self-preservation. She poured out her reputation and dignity. (Would you do what she did to a man who is not your husband? Imagine how scandalous this hair-down adoration was then!)
The Name, Jesus, reverberated in Mary to such a degree that all she could do was pour out her entirety, and adore.
Many of us have done this. We’ve observed Lent. We’ve confessed our sin and kissed the feet of Jesus. We’ve given Him all we have and left our crucified selves at the cross. Then we jump up. We pour, adore and be Martha.
But love poured from an empty cup will leave the world thirsty.
How can we feed the hungry is we haven’t paused to experience Christ’s hunger? How we can pour Living water into the desperate mouths of humanity if we haven’t sat long enough with Jesus for Him to purify it?
I’m sure Martha was huffing and puffing that Mary wasn’t helping in the kitchen. The stomachs of the poor outside were growling. Worthwhile ministries were on pause. Even so, Mary stayed put awhile longer. And in that sacred pause through which most of us fast forward, Jesus filled her up.
“Leave her alone!” Jesus restores her reputation. She is worth protecting.
“She has kept this for the day of my burial.” Jesus validates her financial decisions and ability to discern a truth of His teaching everyone else missed. He affirms her mind.
“You will always have the poor with you. You won’t always have me.” He commends her priorities and vision.
It’s hard to sit silent and still and empty ourselves at Jesus’ burial. It’s humiliating to confess and vulnerable. It’s exposed and painful.
Yet, for some of us it’s even harder to sit silently with Jesus to be filled. We hop up to be Martha to avoid the awkwardness of receiving Divine affirmation. “You are chosen. You are holy. You are beloved.”
Such amazing love makes us squeamish.
But be warned. If we hop up too soon from Christ’s feet we’re nothing but crucifixion people. We bypass becoming nevertheless people. “I’ve been crucified with Christ, nevertheless, I live! Yet, not I, but Christ lives in me.” God’s oil, that healing balm of Gilead, poured over us-as uncomfortable and sticky and awkward and unworthy we feel to receive such an anointing-makes us nevertheless people. And nevertheless people can raise the dead.
Crucified friends, for a few more days, sit still and be filled with the fullness of God, for the sake of the world. Come Easter, the world needs the overflow. The world needs Resurrection people.
Minister of Formation at Courtyard Church of Christ