7th Easter, Mother’s Day
12 May 2013
Elizabeth M. Deibert
Did you know that until the 1960’s the most popular girls’ name in the USA in every decade was Mary? Now I must confess I did not check earlier than the 1800’s. But apparently, it was a strong name in the 1st century Israel/Palestine too. Just to satisfy your curiosity about what happened to girls names after 1960… Lisa was number one in the 60s, Jennifer in the 70s, Jessica the 80s and 90s and Emily has reigned in the first decade of this century, while Mary has fallen to 65th place.
When I was growing up, I had three very important Peggys in my life. My mom was Peggy. My neighbor piano teacher and mentor was Peggy. My aunt was Peggy. Without those Peggys, especially my mom and my piano teacher and mentor I would not be who I am today. Many of you could name a mom or grandmother or aunt or close friend who has shaped your life in profound ways.
In Jesus’ case, when it comes to important women in his life, he would be naming this Mary and that. I thought it would be interesting for us to read together the stories of the Marys in Jesus’ Life. One reason to read them is that we often get confused about which Mary is which. Another more important reason to read them is to be inspired by their devotion – whether they were playing the maternal role or the role of a friend, each of these women served Christ and his ministry well.
First we read about the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Theokokos, she is called, which in Greek means “Mother of God.” Hear the story of Mary’s openness to the Spirit of God, her willingness to bear the Son of God. No human being has more perfectly fulfilled God’s will than Mary, whose very self participated in the Incarnation, the coming of God to be one of us. She is our best example of faithfulness. Would that all of us might contain in our bodies the fullness of God as did Mary.
Mary, Mother of Jesus (Theotokos) Luke 1:30-38 The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." 34 Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" 35 The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God." 38 Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her. (NRSV)
Mary Magdalene traveled with Jesus as one of his followers. She was present at Jesus' two most important moments: the crucifixion and the resurrection. In the four Gospels, she is named at least 12 times, more than most of the apostles. She is described in the Gospels as courageous -- brave enough to stand by Jesus in his hours of suffering, death and beyond. She is the only person to be listed in all four Gospels as first to realize that Jesus had risen and to testify to that central teaching of faith. She was the "Apostle to the Apostles", an honor that fourth-century orthodox theologian St. Augustine gave her and that others earlier had possibly conferred on her.
Despite her centuries-old disreputable depiction in religion, art, literature, and in recent prominent fictional books and movies, such as The Da Vinci Code, it is largely agreed today that "not a shred of solid biblical or extrabiblical evidence suggests she played the role of harlot, wife, mother, or secret lover".[
Mary Magdalene Luke 8:1-3 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. (NRSV)
In Roman Catholic tradition, Mary of Bethany is identified as Mary Magdalene, while in Eastern Orthodox and Protestant traditions they are considered separate persons. Mary of Bethany is sister to Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, a story we won’t have time to read. She is also sister to Martha, the industrious one, who is distracted by her many tasks and frustrated that her younger sister, Mary, is not helping. Would that all of us might take more time, especially in this fast paced, multi-tasking culture, to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen. For Mary to sit at Jesus' feet, and for him to allow her to do so, was itself controversial. In doing so, as one commentator notes, Mary took "the place of a disciple by sitting at the feet of the teacher. It was unusual for a woman in first-century Judaism to be accepted by a teacher as a disciple." But Jesus was not just a first-century teacher.
Mary of Bethany, Sister of Martha Luke 10:38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." 41 But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her." (NRSV)
We move now to the story of the anointing of Jesus’ feet with perfumed oil. Massage oils, aromatherapy has made a resurgence in our time. I expect in the days of few opportunities for cleaning and lots of walking on dusty roads, it was quite a luxury to have one’s feet anointed. John’s Gospel names the woman as Mary of Bethany. Other Gospels do not name her or describe her as a sinful woman. Many think there were two different anointings. Others speculate that the woman anointing was Mary Magdalene. But clearly, in the John text, we are talking about Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus. The point of the story seems to be the extravagant expression of devotion on Mary’s part, something that is considered wasteful by Judas. The timeless tension between spending extravagantly to worship Christ, versus spending to care the poor is played out in this text.
Mary of Bethany John 12:1-8 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me." (NRSV)
We assume that women of Biblical times were meek and mild, never asserting themselves in the patriarchal culture. But the mother of James and John (Zebedee’s wife) approached Jesus confidently to ask for favoritism. Like any good mother, she assumed her kids deserved the best spots. Here’s to all moms who look out for the best opportunities for their children and stick their necks out to get it. And here’s to the lesson learned in this passage – to be the greatest is to be the servant of all.
Mary, Mother of James and John Matthew 20:20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. 21 And he said to her, "What do you want?" She said to him, "Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom." 22 But Jesus answered, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?" They said to him, "We are able." 23 He said to them, "You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father." (NRSV)
There were many women who followed Jesus and more than three women who went to the cross. But the three we have named in our reading are Mary Magdalene and Mary, mother of James and wife of Alpheus (not Zebedee) along with Salome, whose name comes from the Hebrew word Shalom, meaning peace. When I consider these women, the word that comes to mind is courage. To follow to the cross and to the tomb is to get yourself identified with the “troublemaker” the one whom they crucified. I admire these women for their chutzpah and their willingness to suffer. To remain with the dying, as they die a horribly painful death is difficult. To anoint a dead body, dead for three days they thought, would have been unpleasant. But they went, as soon as Sabbath rules allowed.
Mark 15:40-41 There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem. 42 When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. 45 When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. 46 Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid. 16:1 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. (NRSV)
And now the question for each of us, whether our name is Mary or Elizabeth, or John or James, whether we are mothers or fathers, or siblings or friends: What are we doing to live a life of devotion to Christ? What are we doing to nurture people in the ways of Christ? What are we doing to give birth to Christ’s undying love for the world?