Note: This is part of an ongoing series of posts about women in scripture.
Each semester, I ask my students to list every “Mary” in the four Gospels and what she is known for. How would you respond to this question? Before you answer, if you want to have some fun, play the Kahoot game I created about the Marys in the four Gospels.
Usually students can think of two Marys – Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Jesus.
I tell them that depending on how one counts, there are probably five women named “Mary” in the Gospels, and there are only a handful of verses about two of them. Mary the mother of James was present at the crucifixion and came to the tomb on Easter morning (see Matthew 27:56, 28:1, Mark 15:40, 16:1, Luke 24:10). Mary of Clopas is mentioned only in John 19:25, and stands at the cross of Jesus with his mother Mary. It is not 100% clear whether Mary of Clopas is the same individual as Mary the mother of James, and/or if “Mary of Clopas” refers to “Mary the wife of Clopas” or “Mary the daughter of Clopas.” The bottom line is that these two (possibly one) Marys are faithful followers of the Savior who were with him until the end.
So we’ve got four Marys, but there are five mentioned in the Gospels, and there is a surprising amount written about this fifth one – Mary of Bethany. She is a Mary we all can remember – let’s take a moment to review the three scripture stories that feature her. If you ever get the chance to visit the Church of St. Lazarus in Bethany (just outside Jerusalem), you will notice a mural for each of these stories.
The first story about Mary of Bethany is perhaps best known as “Mary and Martha.” In Luke 10, when Jesus comes to Bethany, he’s at the home of Mary and Martha, who are sisters. Martha is working diligently, trying to make sure everything is prepared, and is frustrated when she notices her sister, Mary, is just sitting around listening to Jesus teach. And in perhaps a little frustration, Martha says, “Jesus, don’t you care that my sister is leaving me alone to serve? Tell her to come help me.” And Jesus says, “Martha, you’re careful and troubled about many things, but one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen that good part that shall not be taken from her” (see Luke 10:38-42). In this passage, Mary is portrayed as a faithful disciple, who sits at the foot of Jesus and listen to his words.
The second story involving Mary of Bethany takes place in John 11. The sisters Mary and Martha have a brother named Lazarus who has passed away. Jesus waits before going to see Mary and Martha (divine delay!), and by the time Jesus arrives, Lazarus has been dead for four days. When Mary meets the Savior, she says, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died” (John 11:32).
Mary wept. I love how even though Jesus knows how things are going to end—He knows that Lazarus will be raised from the dead—Jesus weeps with her. We can sense the tender love and compassion of the Savior and see His ability to empathize with our human emotions as He talks with Mary. Mary was a personal witness of Jesus Christ raising Lazarus from the dead.
In the following chapter, John 12, we see a third narrative about Mary of Bethany as she anoints the Savior’s feet in preparation for His burial. We read, “Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment” (John 12:3). Jesus said that Mary “preserved this ointment until now, that she might anoint me in token of my burial” (JST John 12:7).
There are many faithful women in the New Testament. Mary of Bethany is perhaps one of the lesser-known of these powerful women, but she was clearly a believer in Christ, who faithfully listened to and supported him. We can learn from and follow her example.
See more posts about women in scripture.