Love Unbound: A Glimpse into Mary of Bethany

I don’t often share posts about my thoughts on Scripture, but Mary of Bethany has captured my imagination this week and I felt compelled to share her story.  I am intrigued by the outrageous display of affection she lavished upon Jesus in John 12:1-8.  This is an easy story to gloss over, to write-off as an “emotional” female moment, a sweet aside on Jesus’ march to death.  But the more I pondered Mary’s story, the more I realized that it is the complexity of her emotions that make this story so important, so powerful.  You see, much as we try to ignore the embarrassing reality that we all have emotions, this story acknowledges the truth that to be human is to feel.  To be human is to feel life in all its complexity – its heartaches with its joys, its griefs with its love.  Jesus felt.  Mary felt.  And Mary refused to let Jesus feel all by himself.

It seems to me that Mary gave Jesus the greatest gift he could’ve asked for as he prepared for his arrest: she showed him what she feels for him, and she showed him that she feels with him.  She showed him that he is not alone.  Her unbound love was a gift to Jesus, and a gift to us.  For through her story we get a glimpse of what it looks like to be truly human: to feel and reveal love unbound.

Here’s the background of the story: Jesus has just brought Mary’s brother Lazarus back to life – he was dead and buried, and with three words Jesus resurrected him.  Festivities for Lazarus’ life ensued, and so did plots for Jesus’ death.  As Jesus celebrated with Lazarus’ family and friends, he would’ve felt entirely alone in the knowledge of his impending death – until Mary knelt beside him and anointed him with love and gratitude for the death he was about to die.  Surely the scents of Mary’s fragrant gift lingered on Jesus’ skin and sustained him through the trials he faced.

I wrote the words below to honor Mary and the gift of her “emotional” love to honor Love Himself.  May we have the courage to unbind our love, as well.

Love Unbound

Libations and toasts echoed from the walls,
claiming the life her brother had lost,
as if cheering “To Lazarus!” would make his
more believable,
more possible,
more permanent.

He really was dead, and now he really was alive,
and Jesus sat at table with them,
the Giver of Life himself,
relishing the joy of rebirth,
while the shade of Death lurked on his periphery.

And she, she alone, saw its shadow.

Mary heard the whispers in town –
how Jesus was courting danger,
how there was a price on his head.
She, she alone saw how this miracle was the last straw,
how her brother’s life
would cost him his own.
Lazarus’ life
Jesus’ life.
Death was coming,
even for the One who called forth Life.

And Jesus knew it, too.  Still, Mary watched as
he smiled
and cheered “To Lazarus!”
and celebrated that Death was bested…
for at least another day.

So libations and toasts echoed from the walls,
but grief and anger and regret and
deepest, sharpest
echoed in the privacy of her heart:
His life for her brother’s life;
his life for her life.
How could love be so costly?
And how did he so willingly,
so selflessly,
so quietly
pay the price?

And so it happened that
Mary could not – would not – silence the echoes of love in her heart.
Disobeying all social niceties,
breaking all polite customs,
she recklessly interrupted the toasts and cheers
(“To Lazarus!” could wait)
and threw herself upon Jesus’

Unbinding her hair,
unfettering her heart,
she emptied her most precious possession:
costly perfume, fragrant nard
to anoint
the One
who would
anoint Death
with Life

If his life
was for her,
then her all
would be for him.

If his life would be shattered,
then this fragrance would seep through the cracks
of his wounds
and his heart
to remind him in his darkest hour
Why he willingly, selflessly, silently
trades his life for her brother.
His life for her.
His life for us.

It’s Love all around.  Love at its shameless best.
Uncontained, unfettered, unbound.

Mary's Sacrifice by Wayne Forte

“Mary’s Sacrifice” by Wayne Forte. 2008.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s