Updated: Mar 29, 2020
As Martha entered the house carrying the dinner tray, she paused in the doorway, noticing the dust flecks caught in the bright beam of sunlight streaming through the window of her family home. She sighed contentedly. Spring was coming early this year. She loved the warm days when she could let the breeze flow through the unshuttered windows. And how much less they used in oil lamps with God’s own sun lighting the long hours of daylight.
She set the tray down and stepped over to the window, leaning her tall, slender frame on the sill, and peered out into the garden, already alive with blooms. Another contented sigh as she breathed deeply of the warm air.
She could even faintly hear the soft singing of her younger sister Mary, who was probably seated on her favorite bench on the far side of the garden, whiling away the afternoon with her daydreaming. The girl was old enough now that she should be able to do all the household chores herself, if need be, but Martha was lucky if she could even get her to help with the simplest things. Her older brother Lazarus always told her to “leave the child alone.” He was the head of the house now, with their parents gone, and he merely a half dozen years ahead of her. But his word was law, regardless of the fact that he spoiled Mary terribly.
No matter how pretty she was, Mary would have trouble finding a husband. She knew nothing of wifely duties and could care less. Already she was reaching an age where it would be difficult to find her a suitable husband. After all, she would soon be sixteen!
But the pretty ones always do seem to win a husband, she reminded herself. Not that she herself was ugly, but Mary always outshone her when the sisters were together. She had a radiant smile, a sparkle in her dark eyes, and a way of tossing her thick black waves of hair that made Martha feel very plain indeed.
But, Martha was dependable! She was a good cook, kept a clean house, and was considered by all in the village of Bethany to be the perfect hostess. And, oh, the parties they had! She would definitely be the better wife for any man. Yet, here she was, eighteen and still not wed. It was understandable that everyone would have given them a chance to adjust after they’d lost their parents. She had had to take on so much responsibility with running the house for Lazarus as he attempted to get the family spice business back on its feet again.
But their little family had long ago settled into a comfortable pattern, and still the suitors had not called. Would she have to settle for running her bachelor brother’s household until he should decide to marry, and then where would she be? The unwed sister, hidden away in some corner of the household.
And worse yet, what if someone called, asking for Mary’s hand first? And she would probably be asked soon; Martha thought. Mary was attracting more attention at their family’s parties, with her music and her dancing, and her terrible flirting! She was too bold with men and always managed to embarrass them all with her actions. Impetuous little child!
Martha suddenly broke from her reverie. Dinner should be served. And Mary had probably not even set the table yet.
“Mary,” she called out the window. “Come at once. Dinner is ready!”
Lazarus was already seated at table when Martha entered with the serving dishes. And surprisingly, the table had been set, although haphazardly.
How youthful and handsome her brother looked, Martha thought as she set the dishes before him. But his countenance was serious and he had not invited any of his friends as guests this evening, as he usually did.
Mary rushed into the room, her face glowing and her hair streaming freely. She flopped down on a cushion just as Lazarus finished the blessing, without so much as an apology for her tardiness.
“It’s glorious out in the garden, Martha,” she said. “You should have spent some time there today. Your myrtle tree has begun to bloom!” Her affection for her older sister was obvious.
“You’re late,” Martha was annoyed. “We shouldn’t have to wait supper…”
“Sisters,” Lazarus interrupted, hands raised in protest. “No bickering tonight. I want some peace and quiet. And besides,” he continued, “I have some family business to discuss with you.”
Martha was surprised. Lazarus never discussed his business affairs with them. He always had a circle of friends to confide in and get advice from. She waited in silence; her curiosity piqued. Mary, for her part, pouted at the serious turn she knew the conversation would now take.
Lazarus waited until he was sure he had the attention of both of his sisters, then he took a deep breath.
“Mary’s birthday is coming up soon and she’ll be sixteen,” he began slowly, looking right at Martha, but at the same time, right past her. He continued, “I’m already well behind in thinking of her betrothal.” A chill went down Martha’s spine.
“But I think it’s only fair,” he began slowly, then quickly finished the sentence, “that Martha should be wed first.”
Martha sat stone still, not knowing what to expect. Mary began to fidget and play with the food on her plate, not daring to eat until her brother should finish speaking.
“So, I’ve been making some inquiries,” he went on, “and I believe I have found a good husband for you, Martha.” His serious expression turned into a broad grin as he saw her jaw drop. “I’ve asked Simon to call this evening.”
“Simon the Pharisee!” Martha blurted out. Lazarus nodded, smiling.
Martha could not believe it. Simon was rich, and he was influential in the town. She’d always thought him rather distinguished looking, if not actually handsome. And such a large, beautiful house! He needed a good woman to run that kind of household for him.
She’d often wondered why he had never married before. She had heard he was ill for a while and that might have prevented an earlier betrothal. But, apparently that was no longer a problem.
God is indeed good, she thought. When it seems most as if He has abandoned us, He shows us that He does indeed watch over us and care for us.
Oh, the preparations she must make. The house was a disgrace, and he would be sure to notice that and it would go against her and he would change his mind and decide he really didn’t want her after all. Lazarus had probably had to talk him into the arrangement anyway. Simon had plenty of time to decide for himself if he wanted her, and he never had come forward before. Why had he not wanted her? Perhaps Lazarus had promised him something special if he would take her? No, that was foolish. Well, she must be ready whether he wanted her or not.
“Excuse me,” she said, rising slowly from the table, her face now sober. “I must prepare.”
“Why so serious, Martha?” her brother asked, still grinning boyishly. “Simon has had his eye on you for a long time, or so I’ve heard. He’s just been too shy to approach me. And I heard he was sick for a while.”
Lazarus stood then, and reached out to take her hands in his.
“You should be happy,” he said. “I expected you to dance around the room for joy.”
“That’s Mary’s part,” Martha said as she pulled away from him, and quickly left the room.
Why was she so unhappy, Martha thought to herself. This was what she had always dreamed of, and Lazarus could not have picked a finer husband. Why did she feel this need to run away?
She must be sensible. This was a wonderful circumstance and she should enjoy it to the fullest. Now, to prepare for Simon’s coming.
When next she entered the room, resplendent in a new dress, Simon was already seated at the table, conversing with her brother.
“You must see him and talk to him,” Simon was saying. “This new prophet is like none other. It was he who healed me! And the way he speaks! His words are so attractive, yet they often go against everything I’ve ever known. There are some who are calling him the Messiah! You absolutely must invite this Jesus to your home next time he passes this way.”
Simon’s excitement abated as he realized that he was no longer the center of attention for Lazarus. He turned his head, following his host’s gaze, and caught sight of Martha for the first time.
With a look almost of awe, he rose to his feet and stood silently by as she stepped into the room from the doorway where she had waited to be acknowledged.
Martha decided he was indeed a handsome man, with just a touch of gray in his sandy-colored beard. And his robe was of the finest woven linen, although it did not do much to hide his considerable girth.
“Come, sit down, both of you,” Lazarus broke the awkward silence. “We have much to discuss.”
Lazarus pulled a scroll from behind himself and handed it to Simon as he sat again. “This is the marriage contract,” he told him. “Please take your time and read through it.”
Simon scanned the lines in silence for several moments. “You drive a hard bargain, Lazarus,” he finally murmured. He glanced over at Martha and smiled. “But she is definitely worth it. It will take me a little while to get these things together and to prepare my home for Martha, but I am ready to sign this now.”
After both he and Martha had signed the document, the wine was poured and both took their proffered cups, the final symbol of the acceptance of the betrothal. Even as Martha took her cup, she noticeably relaxed with the first sip. Her smile was radiant. Simon tried very hard not to keep staring at her. He felt indeed that he was a very blest man.
But Martha’s smile faded quickly as her younger sister entered the room in a flurry.
“Oh, Martha, what a wonderful wedding celebration we shall have,” Mary said excitedly. “And I could even prepare a special dance for you as a gift. It would be such fun.”
With that, she left the room as quickly as she had come in.
“That girl is such an embarrassment to your family,” Simon muttered. “I don’t know why you put up with her behavior, Lazarus.”
Martha could see that Lazarus was getting angry now, but he chose not to express his feelings to Simon. Instead, he abruptly stood.
“Perhaps you should be on your way now, Simon,” he said, not looking at his guest. “It’s late and I’m tired.”
Simon rose and made his good-byes, feeling suddenly very uncomfortable with his host.
Oh, Mary, Martha thought, why do you always disrupt everything and draw all the attention to yourself?
In the coming days, as Martha prepared herself for her wedding day, Lazarus made acquaintance with the new prophet and invited him to their home. This would be a wonderful opportunity to teach Mary the role that she would soon have to fill as Lazarus’ new hostess, Martha thought.
“Now, Mary, be attentive to all the guests,” Martha reminded her sister as they finished preparations for the dinner. “Make sure they have enough wine and always be close by so that you can quickly see if they have other needs.”
Mary, for her part, pouted. “Oh, sister,” she complained. “I am no good at cooking and baking and cleaning and all those other things you do so well. What shall I do when you leave?”
“You can learn, Mary,” Martha gently reminded her. “You just need to apply yourself. You’ve got to focus on what’s important.”
The sisters embraced and Martha gently took Mary’s veil, which was draped over her shoulders, and pulled it up onto her head. “And you must cover your hair,” she added. “You’re not a child anymore.”
That evening, Martha watched as Mary served the guests, coaching her on the finer points of service as the evening wore on. At one point, Mary turned to her older sister.
“Oh, sister,” she exclaimed. “When Jesus speaks, I am so drawn to his words, like honey from the comb.”
“He does indeed speak well,” Martha agreed. “But it’s not your place to listen to him. You have a job to do; you must focus on that and not let his words distract you.”
“But, sister,” Mary pouted. “Must I…?”
Martha just shook her head. This child did not want to learn; she was content to be a child. But she was becoming a woman and she must learn.
The next day, at their evening meal, Mary spoke up.
“Lazarus, do you think that carpenters make a good living?” she asked coyly.
“I suppose,” Lazarus responded absent-mindedly. Then he turned to look at his sister. “Why do you ask?”
“This Jesus is not yet betrothed, is he?” she murmured. “I wonder if he has been promised to anyone.”
Lazarus chuckled at his sister’s feeble attempt to influence him.
“Mary, I will find a good husband for you,” he said, smiling. “Don’t worry about that. But I don’t think it will be a wandering rabbi, even if he does know a good trade like carpentry. Just be patient.”
The next time Lazarus invited Jesus to be a guest in their home, Martha made sure to instruct Mary to focus on the task at hand: her serving. For longer periods, she retired to the other room and left Mary to do the work herself, just to make sure she was learning.
And Mary did make an effort to be a good hostess at the start of the evening, but as the night wore on, she grew tired of the serving. At one point, Mary had been standing for sometime near the doorway, watching the group of men seated around Jesus, listening to him talk. As he finished answering a question from one of Lazarus’ friends, Jesus looked up at her and smiled.
He smiled at me! Mary thought. And did he cock his head ever so slightly, indicating she should join the group instead of standing in the shadows. He must have!
Mary left her place and came to the edge of the gathering and tried to unobtrusively sit on a cushion near the end of the table. As she sat, one of the men next to her turned with a scowl, but then turned back to Jesus, ignoring her completely. She began to relax a little more and finally was enjoying the lively conversation as much as any of the men guests that night.
Martha came in from the other room a little while later and stopped short when she saw her sister sitting with the men, totally ignoring her hostess duties. Martha was incensed.
“I have told her so many times that she is not to pay attention to the conversation,” Martha thought. “Her job is to be the hostess. And now, look at her; she has completely forgotten everything I’ve tried to teach her.”
Martha doubled her efforts to make sure that all the guests were accommodated, all the while growing more angry at her sister for her complete lack of any sense of duty.
At one point during the evening, Jesus approached Martha.
“May I get you something?” Martha asked as she paused from her work and looked up at Jesus’ face.
“I need nothing, Martha,” Jesus replied calmly, smiling his gentle smile at her.
His smile seemed an invitation to speak. Martha began to pour out her frustrations to him.
“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?” she asked. “Tell her to help me. She will listen to you.”
Jesus continued to smile at Martha, looking at her with compassion in his eyes. “Martha,” he said softly, making sure she had his attention. “Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.”
She nodded agreement. This evening had been a lot of work and Mary made it harder by always having to be coaxed to do her job.
Jesus continued, “There is need of only one thing.” His eyes held steady on her. “Mary has chosen the better part,” he said, “and it shall not be taken from her.”
Martha was cut to her very core. All her anger was now turning to depression. Her gaze dropped to the floor.
“You don’t understand,” she thought. “It’s not fair. How can you side with her, when she’s not doing her duty?”
She looked up again at Jesus’ face. He was still smiling that gentle smile of compassion. In her heart, she felt as if he were speaking to her.
“Duty without love has no value,” she felt him say. “Love must come first. All these things that occupy your time and energy will some day pass away, but My words will never pass away. Hold onto My words if you desire life.”
All the feelings she was feeling so strongly only a moment ago were now being washed away. She half-smiled an embarrassed smile at him and turned as if to leave.
Jesus reached out and touched her arm. “Peace, Martha,” he said, then he turned once again to join the group of men gathered around the table.
Several days later, Lazarus came home from the family spice shop, carrying an alabaster jar with a long, slender neck. He sat down and called his sisters to gather round.
“Come, see what the spice merchants just brought in from the Far East,” he said as he lifted the lid from the container. Immediately, a pungent odor wafted from the jar.
“It smells so strong,” Martha declared as she leaned over to sniff the contents.
“I like it,” Mary stated firmly as she took her turn sniffing the contents. “It smells wonderful! Very earthy.”
“It’s called spikenard,” Lazarus said. “It’s a very rare and expensive perfume. I plan to take this container and divide it up into several smaller containers to sell. It should fetch a good price, maybe as much as 300 days’ wages.”
He closed the container, sealed it, then placed the jar on a shelf and turned once more to his sisters. “Your wedding day quickly approaches, Martha,” he said. “Are you ready?”
“I believe I am,” Martha said. “I’m not sure Mary is ready to take over your household, but I’ve done the best I could to teach her.”
“She will be fine,” Lazarus responded, patting his sister’s hand. “With you as her teacher, how could she not be?”
“You have taught me so much, Martha,” Mary added. “I will try to do better. I promise.”
Lazarus sighed deeply, then got up from where he was sitting. “I think I’ll retire now,” he said. “I’m very tired.”
“But you haven’t eaten,” Martha protested. “Dinner is ready.”
“You go ahead,” Lazarus replied. “I’m not very hungry tonight. I just want to sleep. Good night.”
With that, he was off to his room. The girls sat down to dinner and Martha asked the blessing on the meal. When she finished, she said, “That is so unlike Lazarus to not eat. I hope there is nothing wrong.”
The next morning, Martha found Lazarus still in bed, running a fever.
“You rest while I call a doctor,” Martha told her brother. He nodded slightly and smiled weakly at her.
“Thank you,” he murmured, then his eyes closed again in sleep.
Shortly, the doctor arrived, and after examining Lazarus, he prescribed some medication for him. Martha administered the medication, then wiped her brother’s brow with a damp cloth.
“This should help your fever, Lazarus,” she murmured. “Now get some rest.”
As Martha left her brother’s room, Mary confronted her.
“We must do something more,” she declared. “I am afraid for him. He has never been sick like this before. We can’t lose him like Momma and Papa.”
“What else can we do?” Martha wanted to know. “We are giving him what the doctor prescribed.”
“What about Jesus?” Mary asked. “Why can’t we ask him to heal our brother, just like he did with Simon and so many others?”
Martha agreed and they sent someone to bring Jesus to them so that he could cure their brother. Days passed and the sickness became worse. Lazarus was delirious and the sisters took turns sitting by his bedside, doing what they could to comfort him.
“Oh, why won’t Jesus come?” Mary complained. “It has been several days since we sent the messenger. He must have reached him by now.”
Martha just shook her head sadly. “I wish I knew,” she murmured.
Later that day, as Martha sat by his bed, Lazarus opened his eyes and looked at her.
“Oh, Martha, I’m so sorry,” he barely whispered. “I’ve spoiled your wedding day. And Mary,” he added. “I still have not found her a husband.”
“You lie still,” Martha tried to soothe him. “There will be time for all that when you are better. Now, just get some rest.”
Martha tucked the covers around her brother’s shoulders, then quietly left the room. She returned a little while later to see that the steady rise and fall of her brother’s chest had stopped. She slowly reached out a hand and gently touched his face. It was no longer warm.
Quickly, she left the room.
“Mary,” she called. “Go fetch the doctor. Lazarus needs him, now.”
As Mary ran off to find the doctor, Martha returned to the room to assure herself that her brother was indeed gone. After the doctor arrived, he confirmed Martha’s suspicions.
Mary stood in the doorway as the doctor finished his examination, tears running down her cheeks.
After Martha bid the doctor good-bye, Mary railed, “Oh, Martha, what am I going to do now? You’ll soon leave me to be with Simon, but I have no one. I shall be all alone.” She collapsed onto a bench and began to weep.
Martha leaned down beside the distraught girl. “God is faithful, Mary,” she said. “He does not abandon His children.”
“And why didn’t Jesus come?” Mary was angry now. “He could have healed him. He said Lazarus was his friend, but he abandoned him at his time of need. What kind of friend is that? No man does that to his friend. Jesus can’t be who people say he is if this is what he does to his friends.”
“Now, you don’t mean that,” Martha tried to console her sister. “We don’t know why he was delayed. He may still come.”
“But it’s too late now,” Mary continued her tirade. “Lazarus is dead. What can Jesus do now?”
“I don’t know,” Martha answered truthfully. “But I do know that he loved Lazarus—and our whole family—very much. We must have faith.”
The news of Lazarus’ death spread quickly through the town of Bethany and several of the women gathered in the sisters’ home to prepare Lazarus’ body for burial. Martha joined in to help, but Mary refused, spending most of her time in the corner of the garden, weeping.
The day of the funeral came and still Jesus did not appear. Upon returning to the house after the procession to the tomb, Mary turned to Martha, her eyes swollen and red from crying.
“I believed in Jesus,” she choked out the words. “I believed when he said all those wonderful things about following The Way. But he failed us. He has broken my heart.”
“Oh, Mary,” Martha tiredly responded. “We must trust that God is still at work in our lives. We must trust in God’s love for us.”
“If this is love, I want nothing to do with it,” Mary exclaimed, then ran tearfully from the room.
A few days passed, and each day more neighbors and friends and relatives came to pay their respects to the sisters. The house was full of people reminiscing and trying to bring comfort to Martha and her sister. Mary spent most of her time in the far corner of the garden, weeping, while Martha, always the dutiful hostess, greeted each visitor and spent time with them.
Suddenly, into the room burst the young man whom the sisters had sent to bring Jesus.
“He’s coming!” he managed to gasp as he took in great gulps of air. “He’s nearing town even now.”
Martha quickly went to her sister.
“Jesus is coming,” she told her. “I am going to go meet him.”
Mary stopped crying long enough to say, “I will not go with you. I don’t want to see him.”
Martha just shook her head sadly, then left the garden, heading on the road out of town. After she had walked a ways, she saw a large crowd ahead on the road. Jesus must be with them, she guessed. She quickened her pace and reached the crowd in short order.
When she reached Jesus, she spoke, “Jesus, Lazarus is dead.”
“Oh, Martha,” Jesus murmured sadly, his eyes moist.
“Lord, I know if you had been here, he would not have died,” Martha stated matter-of-factly. She looked steadily into his eyes, seeing the love that he held for their little family. Summoning her courage, she continued, “Even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”
Jesus replied with assurance, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha remembered Jesus’ teaching about the end times. “I know he will rise again,” she said, “in the resurrection, on the last day.”
Jesus looked at her with compassion. “I am the resurrection,” he said quietly, “and the life. He who believes in me will live even if he dies, and everyone who believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Martha hardly knew what to say. She barely understood what Jesus said, yet his words filled her with such comfort. “Yes, Lord,” she said slowly, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God; he who is to come into the world.”
Jesus smiled his gentle smile of compassion at her. The moment seemed like an eternity. Finally he spoke.
“Where is Mary?” he asked.
“She is still at home,” Martha answered. “Wait here. I will bring her to you.”
Martha quickly returned home and sought out her sister, who was still in the garden, away from the rest of the houseguests.
“Mary, you must come,” she cajoled. “The Teacher is here and he is calling for you.” She took her sister’s hands in hers and Mary stood. Martha smiled at her, but Mary did not smile back. Instead her face clouded over with anger.
The sisters left the house, but others noticed, and thinking they were returning to the burial site, began to follow the two women.
Arriving at the place where Jesus was, Mary confronted him.
“Lord, if you had been here,” she cried angrily, “my brother would not have died.” And beginning to weep again, she crumpled at his feet.
Jesus looked down at the girl at his feet and tears began to flow down his cheeks. He put his hands on her shoulders in a gesture of comfort, then looked at her sister, standing behind her.
“Where have you laid him?” he asked softly.
“Lord, come and see,” Martha murmured. She and Jesus helped Mary to her feet and the three started off to the tomb, with the crowds following behind them.
“Did you see him weeping?” one of the mourners asked a companion. “See how he loved him!”
Another scowled at the first speaker. “Couldn’t this man, who opened the eyes of a blind man, have kept this man from dying?” he asked.
As Jesus walked along with the sisters, he openly wept with them. When they finally came to the tomb, which was a cave with a large stone rolled over the entrance, the group stopped. All eyes were looking at Jesus.
Jesus focused his gaze on the tomb, not looking at any of the people surrounding him. “Remove the stone,” he commanded authoritatively.
Martha protested. “Lord, he has been dead four days; surely there will be a stench,” she said.
Jesus turned to Martha, his sorrow now turned to firm resolve.
“Did I not say to you that if you believe,” he said, “you will see the glory of God?”
Martha looked down, embarrassed at his piercing gaze. She indicated to some of the men that were gathered around that they should do as Jesus had said. They approached the grave and dislodged the stone from its place, rolling it to one side. Again, all eyes turned to Jesus.
Jesus looked up at the sky. “Father,” he began, “I thank You that You have heard me. I know that You always hear me, but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent me.”
No one dared move or speak. What was Jesus going to do? Martha’s heart raced. She dared not even think about what could happen next.
Suddenly, Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come forth!”
All eyes turned from Jesus to the entrance of the cave. Seconds went by as the onlookers held their breath, not sure what to expect.
Then they saw some movement! And before their amazed eyes, the dead man appeared in the entrance of the cave, still wrapped in the burial cloths! A gasp of awe came from the onlookers.
Jesus turned to the men who had removed the stone, now frozen in shock near the entrance. “Unbind him and let him go,” he directed.
Martha fell at Jesus feet, overwhelmed by what had just happened. “Oh, Jesus!” was all she could say.
Mary burst into tears and ran from the crowd.
The house was strangely quiet in the ensuing days. Lazarus seemed to be in fine health, but he spoke little and did not gather his friends around him like he had before. Mary spent most of her time in the garden, and several times Martha saw her weeping.
That evening Martha and Lazarus sat down to dinner alone. Mary refused to join them.
“I praise God that He has given you back to us, Lazarus,” Martha said. “But you’ve been so quiet these last few days. Are you alright?”
Lazarus did not respond immediately, looking down at the floor for several seconds.
“I’m still trying to understand it all,” he finally said. “God has given me a second chance at life. I must make the most of it.”
He looked up at his sister.
“I think it’s time I spoke to Mary,” he resolved.
With that, he left the table and headed out to the garden. He found his sister Mary sitting on a bench under the myrtle tree. He sat down beside her. After a few minutes, he spoke.
“You’ve been crying a lot lately,” he said softly. “Aren’t you glad that I’m back with you?”
“It’s not that, Lazarus,” Mary mumbled. She looked up at her brother. “Of course, I’m glad that we have you back again.”
“Then why are you crying?” Lazarus wanted to know.
“I doubted him,” she said simply. “I didn’t believe he could do anything. I was so angry at him for not coming when you were sick. We went through all that pain and suffering.” Bowing her head, she added, “I feel like such a fool.”
Lazarus smiled at his sister. “Oh, Mary,” he replied, “it’s called growing up. You’re beginning to see things differently. You’re becoming a woman now.”
“Why does it hurt so much?” Mary asked, the tears beginning to well up in her eyes again.
Lazarus smiled again and stood. He offered his hand to his sister and she took it and stood.
“Come now,” he said. “Let’s go eat dinner.”
When the three siblings were once again seated around the table, Lazarus spoke.
“I think we should have a party,” he declared. “God has been so good to us; we should celebrate.”
He grinned at the surprised expressions on both of his sisters’ faces.
“But I don’t want to have it here,” he continued. “I want you both to enjoy yourselves. I’ll ask Simon to host the party.”
“It’s only right then that I should serve, since Simon is my betrothed,” Martha declared. See her brother’s scowl, she added, “But I want to. It’s my way of celebrating your return.”
Reluctantly, Lazarus agreed.
Mary said nothing during the conversation and quickly left her place when the meal was over.
In the coming days, Lazarus spoke to Simon to make all the arrangements.
“And you must invite Jesus,” Lazarus concluded. “Without him, we would have nothing to celebrate.”
“I’m not sure how I feel about Jesus anymore,” Simon replied. “There are many who are saying he can’t be the messiah; he has disregarded too many of our laws. How could he be the righteous one?”
“Please, invite him for my sake,” Lazarus cajoled. “I want him to come.”
“If you insist,” Simon was curt. His expression showed his displeasure.
Finally, the day of the party arrived. Martha had Simon’s house all prepared for the guests, with plenty of good food and wine. As she greeted the guests, she glowed with a joy and contentment that she had never felt before. She was doing what she was good at, but now she was doing it as a gift for her brother. It made all the work seem somehow easier.
Mary was nowhere to be found. Martha had talked to her earlier in the day and Mary had told her she would not be coming to the party.
“I can’t, Martha,” she said. “I’ve made a fool of myself already with Jesus. I’d be ashamed to see him now.”
“But so often he has spoken about forgiveness,” Martha tried to soothe her sister. “Surely, he would be the first to forgive you. Please, reconsider.”
But Mary had been adamant. She would not go.
Martha was saddened by that. If only Mary could be there. Jesus would be arriving soon and Martha was sure he would notice Mary’s absence.
As Martha waited for Jesus’ arrival, she noticed something out of place. She quickly went to her brother.
“Simon has forgotten the ceremonial washing jars,” she noted to him. “I’m sure Jesus and his companions will be dusty from their trip. What should we do?”
Lazarus shook his head. “I’m afraid our host wants to let his guest know that he is not pleased with how Jesus has been acting in public recently,” he murmured to her. “He has been saying so many things about our religious leaders that have gotten many people angry. Please, just make the best of it.”
When Jesus entered shortly afterward with several of his disciples, he hesitated at the entryway, surveying his surroundings, but said nothing. He greeted Martha and Lazarus warmly and even had a pleasant exchange with Simon.
The guests had just seated themselves around the table when Martha caught sight of her sister standing in the doorway. She hardly recognized her with her head covered and bowed.
Mary slipped quietly into the room carrying a familiar-looking alabaster jar and fell at the feet of Jesus, weeping. As she did so, her veil slipped from her head and fell about her shoulders, leaving her hair hanging free and nearly shrouding Jesus’ feet.
Her falling tears on Jesus’ dusty feet made great splotches of mud as they mingled with the dust. Looking lovingly at his tear-stained feet, she gathered her long tresses and began to wipe the mud from them. Then she carefully opened the alabaster jar and dipped her fingers into the ointment, and began to anoint Jesus’ feet, bending down and kissing them.
Simon watched her for a few minutes with disgust. “If Jesus really were a prophet, he would know what sort of woman this is who is touching him; that she is a sinner.”
Jesus interrupted Simon’s thoughts.
“Simon, I have something to say to you,” he said.
Simon looked at Jesus, a little embarrassed. “Tell me, Teacher,” he said.
Jesus looked sadly at Simon’s face, seeing the hardness there that seemed ready to find an argument for anything Jesus might say. Finally, he said, “Two people were in debt to a creditor; one owed 500 day’s wages, the other owed 50. Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both.” Jesus held his gaze steady on Simon, who could not look directly at Jesus.
“Which of them,” Jesus asked, “will love him more?”
Simon did not look up as he replied. “The one, I suppose,” he began, “whose larger debt was forgiven.”
“You have judged rightly,” Jesus replied.
Then he indicated Mary, who still knelt at his feet, her head bowed, her tears flowing freely.
“Do you see this woman?” he asked.
Simon nodded, a lump forming in his throat.
Jesus continued, “When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment.”
Simon’s face turned red with embarrassment. He was utterly speechless.
Jesus looked at Mary and smiled.
“I tell you,” he said to Simon, “her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
Jesus reached down and laid his hands on Mary’s head.
“Mary, your sins are forgiven,” he gently murmured. “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
There was a hush around the table. Someone whispered, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
Mary looked up at Jesus’ face for the first time and began to smile a radiant smile. She reached for the jar she had left sitting on the floor and impulsively broke the neck of it against the tile, creating a wide opening. Immediately the room was filled with the pungent odor of the spice. Reaching up, she poured the oil over the head of Jesus.
Judas Iscariot, who had been sitting nearby, was angered. “Why has there been this waste of perfumed oil?” he muttered, more to himself than anyone else. “It could have been sold for more than 300 days’ wages,” he continued, then, as he glanced around at his companions, quickly added, “And the money could have been given to the poor.”
Jesus looked at Judas with sadness. “Let her alone,” he said. “Why do you make trouble for her?”
Judas was sullen, but did not respond.
Jesus continued, “She has done a good thing for me. The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish, you can do good to them, but you will not always have me.”
Jesus looked around at those gathered there, especially his disciples.
“She has done what she could,” he said. “She has anticipated anointing my body for burial.”
His audience was stunned. No one spoke.
He stood and looked around the room once again, then took Mary’s hands and helped her to stand beside him. “Amen, I say to you,” he began, “wherever the gospel is proclaimed to the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”