I have heard people criticize women in the Gospels for their overly emotional responses to situations with Jesus. A closer look proves in each case that women who have been assumed to be hysterical, impassioned, or sentimental actually thought correctly about spiritual matters. Women have no advantage over men when applying their minds to Christ, because both genders have access to the Holy Spirit, which enlightens us to understand truth. But I will say, it seems the Gospel writers, under the inspiration of the Spirit, made a concerted effort to highlight female disciples making accurate judgment calls based on logical thought processes and astute comprehension of events. I think the Bible levels the playing field for women seeking to love God with all their minds.
For instance, in John 11 we read of Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus, who fell deathly ill. Knowing that Jesus could fix the situation, the sisters pursued Jesus with the news. Strangely, he did not respond the way Mary and Martha would have hoped, delaying his arrival so long that Lazarus died. Four days after Lazarus’s burial, Jesus arrived in the town of Bethany to find Mary and Martha distraught with grief, and understandably so. Their brother was dead.
The Scriptures describe Martha catching wind of Jesus’s arrival in town. Taking off to meet him, unable to wait one more minute to confront his indifference for their pain, she lamented, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died” (John 11:21 HCSB). Martha spoke the truth. We can’t know for sure how she said those words or what her tone communicated about her emotions, but we read John’s quotes to find that Martha knew what she was talking about.
Most of the sermons I’ve heard on this moment in our faith history revolve around Martha’s sensitive response in her sorrow. We might even replay the events in our head to assume Martha was accusing Jesus with anger when she said, “If You had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” But her comments are also another way of saying, “Your presence brings life,” which is an admission of faith. If Jesus had been present when Lazarus fell ill, he could have healed him; that is true.
Jesus proclaimed to Martha the life-altering news: he is the resurrection and the life, and anyone who believes in him, even if they die, will live. And then he questioned Martha on this new information. “Do you believe this?” (v. 26 HCSB). Martha confessed, “I believe You are the Messiah, the Son of God, who comes into the world” (v. 27 HCSB). Our hearts should quicken as we read about the saving grace of Jesus making sense to someone. What a work of the Spirit.
Next, Jesus requested Mary’s presence. Rushing to Jesus, Mary fell at her Savior’s feet and told him the same thing Martha had: “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died!” (v. 32 HCSB). Comforting each other and hovering over their brother’s dead body, the sisters had likely traded their sentiments during their lament.
The text points out Mary was crying (v. 33) while she threw herself at Jesus, which may lead us to assume she spoke only through the lens of passion. But what if her tears and her words were not only emotionally charged but also evidence she understood the truth about the Messiah? If Peter had done that instead, would we interpret their comments differently?
The two ladies are perfect examples of mindful women of God. Allowing the Holy Spirit to change their minds, they can receive and adopt a new point of view and align with God himself on the matter and love him with all their hearts, souls, and minds.
Our Death-Conqueror raised Lazarus from the dead, proving himself to be the resurrection and the life. No doubt Mary, Martha, and Lazarus must have been overjoyed by Christ’s miracle. It makes sense that the next time they saw Jesus in Bethany they threw a dinner party in his honor.
Think about sitting next to Lazarus at a dinner party. I wouldn’t be able to stop staring. People, he was dead. Then Jesus made him alive. What else is there to talk about with both Lazarus and Jesus present?
At some point during the meal Mary took a pound of expensive oil, worth one year’s income, to anoint Jesus’s feet, then wiped his feet with her hair (John 12:1–3). Mary appeared three times in the Gospels, and each time we find her at Jesus’s feet. The disciples got angry about Mary’s wasted treasure and the missed opportunity to help the poor with such a valuable commodity. But what they failed to recognize was that they are the poor, the spiritually poor. What the disciples judged as a reckless act was just the opposite, according to Jesus. It was the most appropriate response to her Messiah.
I think Mary knew Jesus was the resurrection and the life, and she understood he was going to die. Honoring her King with a burial anointing was not only a courageous act of vulnerability but also a smart move.
Cover image by Clarke Sanders.