Last week we looked at Martha and how she showed her love for Jesus by serving Him. This week we look at her sister Mary. We have three scenes with Mary, and each has her positioned at the feet of Jesus.

Her Story

We first meet Mary alongside Martha in Luke 10:39. “And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word.” While Martha was busy preparing a meal for Jesus and His disciples, Mary sat at His feet focused solely on listening to everything He had to say. 

Of course, Martha found this annoying since she was having to do all the work while Mary did nothing. So Martha complained to Jesus about Mary’s laziness. 

Now, Martha would have never gone so far as to complain to Jesus unless she’d already tried unsuccessfully to get Mary to get up and help. Can’t you picture, the stares, the mouthing, the gestures Martha probably made each time she passed Mary sitting there? But either Mary just ignored Martha, or she was so enthralled by Jesus that she never even noticed. 

When Martha complained to Jesus, Mary didn’t even defend herself. She didn’t have to. Jesus did it for her. In verses 40-41, He says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

The next time we see Mary is in John 11 after the death of her brother Lazarus. Martha confronted Jesus as He arrived at the outskirts of town, then she went to get Mary.

“Then, when Mary came to where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’” 

It’s the exact same thing that Martha said, but whereas Martha was stoic and deep, Mary was sensitive and sorrowful. In the next verses we learn that Mary was crying, and Jesus, touched by her sorrow, cried as well. 

If you grew up in church, you probably heard about the shortest Bible verse, “Jesus wept.” This is where that verse comes in.

The last scene with Mary and Jesus is in John 12. It’s days before the Passover and Jesus knows that it’s His final days. He came to Bethany where Mary and Martha lived, and there was a dinner given in His honor. While Martha served and Lazarus dined with Jesus, Mary brought out a very expensive oil, sat down at the feet of Jesus, and anointed His feet with the oil, filling the room with the fragrance. 

The Rest of the Story

The first time we meet Mary at the feet of Jesus, it’s in the role of student. Picture an elementary school teacher with her students sitting on the floor, listening attentively to all that she has to say. This is the same type of situation. Wherever Jesus went, He taught whoever would listen. Though there were plenty of times when He stood and taught the masses, we truly see His character in scenes like this where He taught one-on-one with individuals or small groups.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about this scene is that Jesus taught women. Women were not well respected in the days of Jesus. They weren’t considered worthy of being taught. And yet, Jesus taught women. Had He been like other rabbis or religious leaders, He would have focused all His attention on the men and dismissed the women as not being worth His time to teach. But Jesus saw value in women. 

Now, it’s important to note that some translations leave out the “also” in Luke 10:39, indicating that Martha was only concerned with serving, but both women sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. The difference was the Martha saw the sitting with Jesus as a luxury and Mary saw it as a priority.

It would have been the culturally expected thing for Him to agree with Martha that Mary needed to take her place serving in the kitchen rather listening and learning in the living room. Instead, He declared that Mary had every right to be where she was, and that it was better for her to be sitting and learning rather than serving. Like so many scenes we’ve looked at, this was revolutionary.

The next meeting after the death of Lazarus, Mary is initially at home, surrounded by others who have gathered around her to mourn the death of her brother. When Martha tells her that Jesus is on His way, she jumps up and runs to Jesus. 

Whereas Martha came to Jesus seeking to understand what He was doing, Mary came with no expectations. She wasn’t asking Him to do anything. Instead, she just dropped to His feet, sharing her sorrow with Him. She knew He loved Lazarus. She knew He loved her and Martha. She knew He understood what they were going through. So she came to Him, casting her burden on Him, knowing that just being in His presence would ease the pain she was feeling. And His heart broke seeing His precious child hurting so. 

Jesus knew that He was going to bring Lazarus back to life. He knew what was in store and that soon, there would only be tears of rejoicing. But He saw the suffering that His child was going through in the here and now, and He felt her pain and He joined her in weeping. 

What a beautiful picture of the compassion He has for each of us. Mary didn’t have to spew out words, explaining what she was going through. She didn’t have to articulate what it was she was feeling. He knew exactly how she was feeling. And He wept with her because that’s what she needed at that moment. 

Then, in John 11:45 we see that, “Many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him.” Though Mary’s time of sorrow, through her suffering, lives were saved. 

The final scene with Mary is at the dinner with Jesus and His disciples. Some Bible scholars try to say that the scene with Mary anointing Jesus’ feet is the same as the anointing woman we studied earlier, but there’s nothing to indicate that at all. These were two different women in two different situations and scenarios. In this case, Mary is preparing for Jesus’ death.

Just as Mary was oblivious to Martha’s earlier cries for help, again, she’s focused only on Jesus, not worrying about anyone else. This time, though, she finds opposition from Judas as he points out how expensive the oil was and that the money could be better used to serve the poor. Again, Jesus comes to Mary’s defense. 

In John 12:7-8, He responds to Judas. “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.”

Your Story

We often feel like we have to have just the right words to pray in order for God to answer our prayers. But Mary had little to say. Instead of speaking, she just showed up. She soaked up knowledge, shared her sorrow, and celebrated in worship. And Jesus praised her devotion.

If we want to have that special relationship with Him, we need to spend more time at the feet of Jesus. We need to study His word, soaking in every bit of wisdom and understanding we can get. We need to take our sorrows to Him, knowing that words aren’t necessary because He knows our hearts. And we need to just sit and worship Him, knowing that each moment we have with Him is a gift not to be taken lightly. 


Lord God, thank You for loving us so very much. Thank You for allowing us a place at Your feet where we can learn, weep, and worship. Forgive us those times we get caught up in doing what is good but is not best. Help us not to listen to those who would strive to discourage us or lead us astray. Hold us tight. Remind us that You’re always there for us, even when it feels like You’ve abandoned us. Use our suffering for Your glory. Use us to draw others near to You. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Tune in next week when we look at the Afflicted Daughter of Abraham.
You may not recognize the name, but I think you’ll recognize the story.

copy of mary of bethany

Bible Study

Scripture Background

Her Story: Luke 10:38-41; John 11:1-46; John 12:1-8

Bible Study Review

  1. Why was Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet rather than helping Martha?
  2. What did Mary say to Jesus after Lazarus’ death?
  3. What did Mary do at her final dinner with Jesus?

Thoughts to Ponder

  1. What was revolutionary about Jesus teaching Mary?
  2. Why did Jesus weep with Mary?
  3. Why did Judas complain about her anointing oil?

Personal Reflection

  1. Do you have a hard time stopping and sitting with Jesus?
  2. Are you able to take your sorrows to Him without expecting Him to take away your sorrow?
  3. Are you able to ignore the distractions of the world and concentrate on Jesus?

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Mary of Bethany: Taking our sorrow to the feest of Jesus
Mary of Bethany: Sitting at the feet of Jesus
Mary of Bethany: A lesson in taking our sorrows to the Lord

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