Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

The heart on Mary’s sleeve

ONE OF THE biggest mistakes I have made in my Christian life is thinking that I have to look like I have it all together, as if that will somehow persuade others about God’s existence. Of course, the reverse is true.

God doesn’t need any second-rate PR help, and I clearly haven’t got it all together. So, pretending otherwise fools no one. Rather, they are likely to look at me and dismiss anything I might have to say because words don’t match reality.

I’ve been slower in coming to this realization than I would like to have to admit. However, I have been helped in getting there by the example of one of Jesus’s disciples.

Mary from Bethany was a warts-and-all, heart-on-her-sleeve follower who demonstrated the kind of authentic faith I seek.

She was open about her dependence. When Jesus arrived at the home she shared in Bethany with siblings Martha and Lazarus, Mary made it clear that she wanted to learn from Him: “She sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching” (Luke 10:39). In doing so, she was unapologetic about being a learner; she didn’t pretend she had all the answers.

Indeed, she was so focused on learning what she did not know that she ticked off her sister, Martha, who grumbled about having to do all the hospitality work solo.

Mary also defied social conventions of the day. Knowing that rabbis didn’t typically have female students, she might have hung back in the shadows to hear what Jesus had to say without causing a scene. But no; she appears to have been so intent on not missing anything that she took a front-row seat.

She was open about her disappointment. When Jesus delayed returning to Bethany despite an appeal for Him to come, resulting in Lazarus’s death, Mary didn’t put on a brave face for those around her. She didn’t hide it when her faith didn’t add up, and pretend that everything was okay.

When Mary went out to greet Jesus, she told Him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 10:32). It’s not clear whether her tone was accepting or accusing, hurting or hopeful, but she was acknowledging that things could have gone differently if Jesus had intervened.

She was open about her devotion. If Mary didn’t care what people thought about her uncertainties, she sure wasn’t bothered by what they made of her absolute belief in and love for Jesus. When she poured anointing oil over His feet as he dined, people murmured about the wastefulness of the gesture. They even used spiritual talk (“She could have helped the poor instead!”) to make their case.

Not only was she unperturbed that some thought her actions were excessive, Mary did not allow convention to muffle her declaration of her love. Touching Jesus’s feet as a woman was scandalous enough, but letting down her hair—a gesture usually reserved for the marital bedroom—to wipe them dry would have had some people reaching for the smelling salts.

Displaying such unaffected, unfiltered faith may be a bit uncomfortable, but it’s much more appealing than the fuzzy kind many of us sometimes prefer to offer others. Mary didn’t care what standing she had in front of others, literally—because she was kneeling before Jesus.

It’s instructive that in each of these three encounters, Mary was at His feet; a place of submission and surrender.

Photo by Send me adrift. on Foter.com/CC BY-NC-ND

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