Mary: Unwavering focus! – Luke 10:38-42; John 12:1-8
By Pastor Lee Hemen
May 20, 2012 AM
In 1941, Father Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish priest, was arrested by the Nazis and taken to Auschwitz for publishing “inappropriate” literature. In the horrific environment of the concentration camp, Father Kolbe ministered to his fellow prisoners. Then one day, after a prisoner had escaped, soldiers lined the men up and began selecting ten to die in the starvation bunker. When one prisoner was selected, he cried, “My wife and children! What will they do?” Hearing the man’s cry, Father Kolbe volunteered to die in his fellow prisoner’s place. The prisoner for whom Kolbe sacrificed himself survived Auschwitz. In fact, he lived another 53 years. However, he never tired of telling people what Father Kolbe had done for him. He stated that as long as he lived, he would consider it his duty to tell people everywhere about the heroic sacrifice Maximilian Kolbe had made for him.
Shouldn’t believers do the same concerning Jesus? Shouldn’t it be our duty to tell people everywhere about the heroic sacrifice He has made for us? Far too often, we lose our focus on what truly matters in life and allow other things to interfere. This is why I love Mary of Bethany. She was blessed for her unwavering focus on Jesus. Mary’s attention on the Lord helped her “keep the main thing the main thing” in her relationship with Him. Life offers us choices, and many times, we must choose, not between something that’s good and something else that’s bad, but between something that’s good and something else, that is best. Like Martha, we all tend at times to be distracted from seeking the best. How can we remain focused on Jesus, the Best of the best? Let’s find out.
Listen carefully. This is one of the unwritten rules of maintaining and improving relationships. Good friends become great friends when they listen to each other. Time spent together offers opportunities to listen and connect. Good friends know that people have meaning and feelings beyond the words they speak. Even so, we communicate with words—so listening is vital if we want to know others well. Only after we have truly listened can we begin to go beyond a person’s words to know him or her on a deeper level. We find that Mary…
I. Listened to Jesus! (Luke 10:38-42)
1. Sometimes, we can be doing a lot of activity for Jesus, yet miss Him completely!
1) We find that “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.” Evidently, Martha believed friends don’t let friends travel on an empty stomach. Nevertheless, Martha’s focus was misplaced. Her sister…Mary chose a quieter role. She was sitting at Jesus’ feet, which was a disciple’s right place, in a learner’s pose. The two sisters had the same parents but had a different perspective on how they would spend their most valuable moments with Jesus. Mary, “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what [Jesus] said.” In contrast, Martha took on the roles of greeter and welcoming committee, chief cook and bottle washer, hostess and waitress, and made her home a display of the aromas of good food and good atmosphere! Devoted in her actions, yet in her heart, Luke informs us, “Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” Like many who focus on the wrong thing, Martha got angry when someone else didn’t do as she did! Finally, when she couldn’t handle it any longer, she demanded, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” Martha was busy serving Jesus, but her service got in the way of her listening to Him! The scraps from Martha’s delicious feast would turn up in tomorrow’s trash. Mary’s choice, however, would yield benefits for eternity. “‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” Serving a meal for Jesus was good—but listening to Jesus was better!
EXAMPLE: Our mother used to moan, after a hard day’s work around the house, “I work and I slave and what thanks do I get?” Dad would jokingly respond, “A happy husband and a heap of healthy heathens!” referring to us kids. We can focus so much on what we are doing that we miss what we are truly to focus on in life! In the Lord’s company, seated next to Jesus and learning from Him, we find the things we need most for our Christian worship and walk. We can definitely “do” more after we have listened to Jesus, but we can do nothing more important until we have come into His presence. In our age of mindless activities, we often have to swim upstream to engage in truly purposeful pursuits. And let’s not be naive. Simply attending church doesn’t necessarily mean sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to Him. When we walk out of church without having heard from God, we can’t blame the pastor, the music, or the congregation. Are we eager to hear from God? Are we truly listening to the Lord in our lives like Mary?
Why did Mary love Jesus so much? No doubt, one reason was Jesus’ powerful and gracious act of raising her brother Lazarus from the dead. Single women could become destitute or have extreme difficulty making ends meet. Of course, even apart from financial concerns, the sisters loved Lazarus and were deeply grieved. Mary had been waiting for a chance to show her devotion. The dinner was her opportunity, and she joyfully and gratefully made the most of it. Yet, even putting the resurrection of Lazarus aside, Mary knew Jesus was special and because of that, we find that Mary…
II. Gave her best to Jesus! (John 12:1-3)
1. Jesus’ life was one of love given freely and our lives are to be the same!
1) Jesus went back to Bethany six days before the Passover, meaning the events we are about to examine likely happened on a Saturday. At this Passover, Jesus, the Lamb of God, would die on the cross as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. Lazarus was there at Bethany, still giving testimony about Jesus having raised him from the dead. We find that “Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.” The supper probably was the evening meal. The hosts included Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. Martha, as usual, served. During the meal, an extraordinary and beautiful event took place. “Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” John recorded Judas’s disgust as he noted the ointment was valued at a working man’s yearly wage! Imported from India the oil came from the roots of the nard plant. Mary acted with humility as she wiped his feet with her hair, a detail only the Gospel of John mentions. In the first century, Jewish women never unbound their hair in public because doing so was thought to be immoral. But Mary’s deep love for Jesus was more important than propriety. Mary recognized Jesus’ gracious love and responded with an extravagant gift that demonstrated her love for Him. She is an example of one who gave her best to Jesus.
EXAMPLE: Mary’s extravagant act of love was Christ-centered. Believers, whether in the 1st century or the 21st century, keep their focus on Jesus by giving Him the best rather than holding back resources for themselves or deliberately giving Him their second best. Just as Jesus was pleased with Mary’s gift, He also is pleased with our gifts to Him. Her example leaves us wondering about the last time we gave our best to Jesus. My father asked me to weed my mother’s roses, but I only made a lackadaisical attempt. Several weeks later, the same weeds came back with a vengeance! After seeing Mom’s rose beds, Dad asked, “Is this how you show your love and respect for your Mother by doing by doing a halfhearted job?” Believers who continually sharpen their focus on Jesus by giving Him their very best, as Mary did, never have to worry whether He is pleased with their gifts. He is.
The contrast between Martha and Mary is stark and revealing. It suggests two questions we need to ask about our devotion to Jesus. First, what distracts us from our relationship with Jesus? Second, how can we balance fulfilling our tasks and responsibilities without allowing them to distract us? Some believers find value in other people’s favorable opinions of their actions. However, one individual exists whose approval we should seek above all others: Jesus Christ. As believers, we seek His approval because we are grateful for all He has done for us. We find that Mary…
III. Sought the approval of Jesus! (John 12:4-8)
1. Jesus is the only person whose opinion truly matters!
1) Mary humbled herself and displayed great devotion to Jesus by anointing Him with expensive fragrant oil. After a display of love from Mary came a display of selfishness from someone else. Mary was misunderstood and criticized. Judas voiced objection to what he perceived as extravagant waste. Some of the disciples present at the dinner (Matthew 26:8) apparently agreed. Concern for the poor is understandable and appropriate. But concern for the poor was not the real motive behind Judas’s outburst. Judas, who later would betray Jesus, was a thief. He whines, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” The one who tries to show such piety “as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” When others criticized her, Jesus defends her, “Leave her alone.” “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” (John 12:7-8 NIV) Mary’s unwavering devotion was less about cost and more about the cross. Her gift personalized her love but also prophesied the near future. Jesus’ death was near, and she had performed a preordained act that was for the day of His burial. Mary did not realize, any more than the disciples did, that Jesus’ death was at hand. Jesus, however, viewed Mary’s act as a kind of pre-anointing. Jesus’ words concerning the poor did not arise from arrogance. His disciples should not think of poverty as inevitable and therefore do nothing to alleviate it. Rather, Jesus meant that while there always will be opportunities to help the poor this was Mary’s last opportunity to minister to Him before His death. Mary’s presence at the dinner that day gave this devoted follower of Jesus a unique opportunity to do a noble thing, and Jesus openly approved.
EXAMPLE: Andy Warhol, the pop-art painter of such American images as the Campbell’s soup can, once said, “In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.” But he was wrong. Millions of people will never grab their moment in the spotlight. Some of them are the men and women who spend their lives doing things like working hard, raising godly children, faithfully praying for others, sharing their faith with those who don’t yet know Jesus. They teach Sunday school, bring meals to the sick, drive senior citizens to doctors’ appointments, and do countless other kindnesses. These people may never be recognized outside their circle of family and friends. Certainly, their names aren’t well known. And although they willingly, and often sacrificially, give of themselves, they may not receive a whole lot of thanks or praise for their service. Yet God knows of their faithfulness, approves of it, and is pleased by their obedience. Mary never thought her act of love would be remembered, but it was by the one whom she performed it for and because of that, we now know how she sought the approval of Jesus.
In Mary of Bethany we find an unwavering focus by how she listened to Jesus, gave Him her best, and in how she sought His approval in what she did.
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2012 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.