As we come to the account of Mary we must remember that, as in the case of Martha, we are observing our Lord's methods of dealing with His own. These two women, in common with their brother, were friends of Jesus, and certainly were His disciples. Again, we have the same difficulty as we experienced in dealing with Martha, namely that it is not easy to look at either of these women, losing sight of the other. There is a sense in which it is not only difficult, but impossible. Therefore, while our business is to see Mary, we shall be conscious of Martha throughout the article and shall have to refer to her, as in the last article we did to Mary, when dealing with Martha.
As in the case of Martha, then, we have three pictures in exactly the same connection. We may describe them as we did in the last article as constituting a triptych, presenting to us three days in the lives of these women. In the first the principal impression made upon the mind is that of sunshine and joy, a little overshadowed in certain ways. The second presents a picture of shadow and darkness and trouble, in the midst of which a wonderful light breaks forth. The final picture may again be referred to as one of mystery and darkness. As we have looked at Martha on these three days, so now we turn to look at Mary.
Now as we look at Mary the old comparison with Martha with which we have long been familiar, almost inevitably comes to mind. This comparison often suggested that Martha was the busy housewife, alert and active; and too often we have looked at Mary as though she were somewhat dependant, that is, the kind of woman we sometimes are inclined to describe by the word clinging, that is, one whose nature was such that she was quite prepared out of affection, to sit quietly down, forgetful of duties, which were being carried out by another.
Now such a contrast shows that we have not carefully considered the account as it is written for us. We observe Luke, in his account, after having told us of Martha, and that she had received Him into her house, added the words: "And she had a sister called Mary."
Reading those words and those that immediately follow, let me first render them as they seem to have been constantly understood: "And she had a sister called Mary, which sat at the Lord's feet, and heard His word."
Now if we look carefully at this, it will be seen that that rendering has omitted a little word. Probably we should not omit it in reciting it, but we are in danger of omitting it in our thinking. The word I refer to is the word "also." Let us read it then in that way.
"She had a sister called Mary, which also sat at the Lord's feet, and heard His word."
That word "also" changes the whole meaning the statement. If we ponder it we see that it can only mean one of two things. It either means that Martha sat at the Lord's feet, and Mary also; or it means that Mary had already rendered service in the house, and also sat at the Lord's feet. It cannot possibly mean that Martha sat at His feet, for the whole point of the account is that it was exactly that which she had failed to do.
Mary, therefore, having rendered service, and taken her part in the work of the house in providing for the Guest, also sat at the Lord's feet.
This is accepted out as we carefully consider how Luke tells the account of the approach of Martha to Jesus when she said: "Lord, dost Thou not care that my sister did leave me to serve alone bid her therefore that she help me."
Thus it was not the case of complete neglect on the part of Mary against which Martha complained, but that in her judgment she had not done enough. She had left off too soon. Mary is thus revealed as one who knew however important service was, it was not enough. Life demanded something more than that, in order to its full realization.
What that something was will be best understood if we bring to bear upon this account the light of Eastern custom. Sitting at the feet in the East had two distinct significance's, both of them merging in one. To sit at the feet was first of all an activity of worship, a revelation of subservience, the taking up of the attitude of one who stood in awe, recognizing the superiority of the One at Whose feet she was sitting.
Then also sitting at the feet is a synonym for discipleship. To take that position was to do so in order to learn, to receive from the One at Whose feet she sat, the instruction which He had to give, and that she was conscious that she needed. Thus Mary recognized on that day, that it was of utmost importance that she should take time to render homage to her Lord, and in that attitude to receive from Him what He had to give her of instruction. Thus she would give to Him in adoration, and receive from Him instruction. Martha with love prompting her, was attempting to fill the opportunity in service, and by doing so was becoming distracted. Mary in that day of sunshine, having taken her part in the service of the home, sought the full realization of life as ceasing activity, she sat a disciple, rendering adoration, and waiting for instruction.
We now pass to the second of these pictures, and once again we see these two women equally in the midst of trouble. Their brother Lazarus was sick, and disease was rapidly increasing, mastering all their attempts to cope with it. It was then that they together sent a message to Jesus in those arresting terms: "He whom Thou lovest is sick."
It was evidently a most confident message. They were sure that if He knew of the sickness of His friend, He would be with them; and therefore they sent to tell Him.
Then came what must have appeared at the moment to be strange and inexplicable. He did not come. Hearing of the sickness of His friend, He had remarked, "This sickness is not unto death."
But now to all human seeming, and as a definite earthly fact, Lazarus was dead. The solicitous care of the sisters had failed to hold life within that body, and he lay in the house an inanimate corpse. Then the news reached them that Jesus was arriving-and again I use the words as expressing what they must have felt at the moment-too late. Martha is at once seen breaking through all conventionality, and leaving the house in order to meet Him, and pour out to Him her complaint. Now Mary is seen still sitting in the house. He was on the road, and she knew it, but she remained quietly where she was, until the message was brought to her by Martha that her Lord was asking for her. John tells us that after Martha's wonderful conversation with Jesus in which He had flooded her soul with those astounding statements concerning life and resurrection, she came into the house and said: "The Master is here, and calleth thee."
Although John does not record in process the fact that Jesus had called for her, there can be no doubt that it was as Martha declared.
Now we see Mary, in obedience to that call, rising from her place in the house, and passing down the road to meet Jesus. Carefully notice that when she arrived, she fell at His feet, and there uttered the words which expressed her sense that had He been present, the ultimate calamity would not have occurred. It is most arresting to observe that these two women used the same words in addressing their Lord: "Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died."
Nevertheless it is evident that if the words were the same, the tone was entirely different, and therefore the meaning was different. Martha standing erect spoke to Him. Mary falling at His feet spoke to Him through her tears. Martha was saying in effect, why did You not come? As though challenging His friendship. Mary was saying in effect, I wish You could have come, and regretting His absence.
Then to return to the contemplation of the last of the three pictures. At least sixteen people are seen, and Martha is revealed as serving, creating hospitality. The highest Guest is Jesus Himself, and He is surrounded by His disciples. Suddenly Mary enters, and now she violates all the conventionalities. In the day of her sorrow she, a quiet, retiring woman, still sat in the house until she was sent for. She, who had made time to sit at His feet when the sun was shining, now breaks in upon this gathering, and does that which at once arouses the attention, and indeed the criticism of the onlookers. She brought with her costly spikenard, and pausing at His feet, poured it out in full view of those assembled. It was such an unusual act as to call forth protest. As we read this matchless account we have a feeling that we would like to leave out the account of that protest. But we cannot leave it out, for it is needed as background to the beauty of the thing which Mary did. The voice of Judas was heard: "Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?"
It is to be carefully noted that while Judas uttered the words, they all were in agreement with him. They were looking upon something the meaning of which they could not understand.
It is of the utmost importance that we should attempt very carefully to examine the incident, and to see what it really meant. Going a little ahead of any line of proof, I have no doubt that as Mary had looked into the eyes of her Lord; she had seen Him as none other of those surrounding Him saw Him. She saw the shadow of the coming Cross and tragedy. He had certainly long told these disciples that this would be so, but Mary that day was the only one keen and sensitive to the sorrow of His soul. It was as though she said within herself! If only I can get near enough to touch the fringe of His garment of sorrow, and show Him something of sympathy! It was then that she became what the disciples designated as wasteful. That she was successful is proven by the fact that our Lord, in referring to her action, connected it with the day of His burial. She had indeed touched the fringe of the garment of His sorrow, and He understood.
As we look back over these three scenes we ask what is the key to the character of Mary? It is undoubtedly found in words which we have already emphasized, to which we return for the discovery of the secret. They are the words, "His feet." In the day of sunshine she went to His feet, and in the doing of that there was a revelation of love expressing itself in worship and discipleship. In the day of her own sorrow, when He had sent for her, she returned to the same place, "His feet." And now in the day when His sorrows were manifest to her love-lit eyes, she went back to His feet, and in an act that appeared only wasteful to less illuminated watchers, passed into the fellowship of His sufferings. On this last occasion she was supplying that for which love is ever seeking, that which can only be supplied in silence, and in those acts that demonstrate understanding and fellowship.
We glance over the ground once more, perhaps to say the same things, but they are full of value. In the day of prosperity and joy she sat at His feet in adoration, and in the reception of revelation. In the day of her anguish, with Lazarus dead, and already in the tomb, she waited for His call, and then found her way to the old trysting-place, and unlike Martha, who in honesty challenged His friendship; she expressed only her regret that it had not been possible for Him to be there. The attitude was the same as in the day of sunshine, that of submission and worship. In this final day while Martha is blessedly occupied in serving, and the disciples perhaps were busy discussing the situation with trembling hearts, Mary hurries past them all, back to the same place, and that in order that she might somehow show the fellowship of her soul with Him in His suffering.
In this article there is not very much to be said as to the Lord's methods, because they are so self-evident. As we watch Him with Mary we are inclined to repeat the verse many of us know so well and love.
"He knows, He loves, He cares,
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives His very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him."
That tells the account of His dealing with Mary. She left the choice to Him in sunshine and in shadow, and He gave her the best. In the day of sunshine when she sat at His feet, He gave her His teaching. As Luke puts it, she: "Also sat at the Lord's feet, and heard His word."
That is all Luke says, but with reverent and sanctified imagination we can listen. He would talk to her of love, His utmost message, of love that was stronger than death. He would speak to her of light, light that was ever shining, and which no darkness could extinguish. He would talk to her of life, life in that fullness which never can be destroyed by death. These were forever His great themes. As Mary sat at His feet and heard Him speaking of love, she would realize that all round about her light was breaking such as she had never dreamed of. She would find life, not as a brief space of happiness that knew an ending, but as an age-abiding quality and quantity. These would be the things that she heard falling from His lips.
When we come to the day of darkness, we notice how careful John is to declare, that Jesus loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus, and in connection with that statement, continuing, if He said: "When therefore He heard that he was sick, He abode at that time two days in the place where He was."
Surely if this was an imagined account on the human level at that point the case would have been stated quite differently. We should almost inevitably say that when He heard that Lazarus was sick, He hastily arose and went to the sisters. As a matter of fact He did not come until it was-as we have said, from their standpoint, at the moment-too late.
Then when Mary came to Him, the account of what He gave her is told in that one shortest and perhaps most inspiring verse in the Bible, "Jesus wept." Nothing now is said of her listening to His words. He gave her now no teaching. To Martha He had spoken about the resurrection, for that is what Martha supremely needed. To Mary He gave His tears.
Expositors here have seemed to be in some reverent difficulty. Some say that the tears were tears shed on account of the Jews, and their hardness of heart. But that fact had been revealed a little earlier, when it is said that in the presence of the last enemy He groaned in the spirit, and was troubled.
As I ponder the marvelous account, I see Mary weeping, and Jesus weeping also. Now at first there is a sense in which it is not easy to understand this. Supposing for the sake of argument, that someone had a loved one lying ill, yes dead, and I came to the home, knowing that within a few swiftly passing moments, I could bring your loved one back, I do not think it would be possible for me to weep. But there at once is the difference between my heart and the heart of God. To me there is no sentence more radiantly revealing the heart of God than that brief declaration, "Jesus wept." The keen, quick, great sensitiveness of the heart of the Lord went out to meet the broken heart of Mary, and His tears fell in sympathy. I feel that that can only be understood as we understand God, as He is revealed in Christ. As a matter of fact it is always God's attitude toward suffering. The ultimate consummation of God's love is that He will wipe away all tears from human eyes. Nevertheless, knowing that that is so, He also knows the anguish suffered by the human heart, and even though it is ultimately to be removed, He suffers with humanity, thus He gave to Mary on that sad day the very best, the sacramental symbols of the sympathy of the loving heart of God.
We glance finally at that hour of mystery, so full of tenderness, and we ask, how did He then respond to Mary? We notice carefully in the first place that He appreciated her motive. He knew that she had done what she did for the day of His burial. Then He defended her against misunderstanding and misconception. Accepting her gift, He made it the inspiration of similar devotion through all the running centuries. First He appreciated her motive. She had come to Him, seeing in His eyes the haunting pain, the evidence of which she only was capable of understanding. He was the only One Who understood, but seeing that He did understand, Mary would care little or nothing for the criticism of Judas and the rest.
He sharply rebuked them as He said. "Let her alone." Do not insult that kind of devotion and love by mechanical and passing criticism. In this connection Matthew and Mark tell us not only what John records, but that He said: "Wheresoever this Gospel shall be preached in the whole world, that also which this woman hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her."
That has happened over and over again, for two thousand years the account has been the inspiration of all sorts of actions of love in the bringing of gifts to be devoted to the Lord Himself.
In our meditation on Martha we emphasized the need for taking time to sit at His feet, on the negative side, as watching Martha, we saw the reason of her failure was that she had left out that one thing which was absolutely needful.
In this meditation on Mary, the lesson is stressed on the other, the positive side. She took time to sit at His feet in prosperity, even though her action was misunderstood. She returned to His feet in her adversity. And now at the last, she is seen going to His feet in the fellowship of His sufferings. Surely these accounts are speaking to us very powerfully if we will but listen to them. Is not one great cause of our trouble and restlessness today that we take so little time to sit at His feet? We are all so busily occupied, quite honestly, in service, forming committees and organizations, even exhausting the alphabet in our attempt to show how wonderful they are. And yet how appallingly we lack the one thing really needful, time for sitting at His feet in devotion and discipleship.
In the day of prosperity we must make time for this. If we do so, we shall grow so familiar with Him that when some shadowed hour closes in upon us, we shall hear Him calling us, and we shall know the true place to which to go to find love and strength.
That leads us to the final matter. I do not care to overemphasize this, but with life's experiences behind me, I am very much inclined to the conviction that the only way of entering into fellowship with His sufferings is through some suffering of our own, in which at His feet, we have discovered the sources of strength and comfort.
So to those in the hey-day of health and strength let the stories make their appeal that we make time to sit at His feet, accounting any activity as weakened where this is neglected. To those who suffer, the accounts tell us that the Master is ever calling us to come to Him, and to find in Him keen and quick and powerful sympathy, which is our deepest need. And so, finally, we may find our way into that closest fellowship with Him, which brings to Him the sense of our fellowship in His sufferings. As I ponder the account of Mary, the feeling of my heart is that I would rather be in succession to her, than the whole company of the apostles.