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A Tale of Three Mary’s

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The last of the snow is finally melting and even though it is still cold out, the temperature is starting to sneak back up the thermometer and I’m looking forward to spring. Some of my neighbors still may have a few lingering Christmas decorations that have been frozen in place for a  few months but I’ve already placed an Easter themed wreath on my door. Winter hangs on but spring is going to happen…eventually.

The last time I saw my extended family was at Christmas when it was cold and snowy out but now we are planning what we will do for Easter and hoping for a warm, spring day to celebrate on. As I wait for Easter, I find it curious to think that Jesus had only one other human at his side on both that first Christmas and the first Easter and that was his mother Mary. There were two other Mary’s who were also close to Jesus during his time on earth and this in between holidays, winter ending and not quite spring might be a good time to sit back and revisit these ladies.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is one of the most striking examples of faith that we meet in the Bible. She was a young girl from a little backwater part of the mighty Roman empire. When we first meet her she is engaged to be married to Joseph. The angel Gabriel appears to her with an incredible message. Women married early in those days so we can assume that Mary herself is just a young girl when she received the angel’s message (Luke 1:28). She is “greatly troubled” by the words. What must she have been thinking? She had heard stories of Moses, David and Elijah. They had been “highly favored by God” and look what they had to go through. Surely, God would not ask anything that extraordinary of her. She was just a child in a poor country town on the edge of nowhere. But the angel continues his message. He tells her that she “will be with child and give birth to a son…the Son of the Most High”. Mary’s answer is very practical. She wanders how this could happen to an unmarried girl but Gabriel explains that this is God’s son who she will bear. Is she terrified or perhaps just so overwhelmed by the very idea? Who can say? Thoughts of her angry parents and fiancé’s inability to believe her story must have frightened her. What would she do? How would she live? Yet, if the angel’s message is unbelievable, Mary’s answer is staggering and resounds down through the ages.

“I am the Lord’s servant”, Mary answers, “may it be to me as you have said”.

Complete submissiveness, no questioning, pleading for clarification or outright denial. I like to imagine that she paused for a moment, took a deep breath and then answered, but Scripture doesn’t record that. We just see the most stunning example of faith, trust and submission ever recorded. She accepts her fate and trusts God to handle all the details.

There have been times when I knew that God had a job for me and I wasn’t too thrilled with it. Maybe it was a volunteer position that no one else wanted or dealing with a sticky issue with a friend. I knew it was the right thing to do but I dragged my feet the whole way. Mary’s example of total submission to God’s will is not something we see very often. Sadly, most of us tend to react more like Jonah did when he ran from God.

Mary’s complete trust is evident throughout her son’s ministry. When the family attended a wedding and the host ran out of wine, Mary knows exactly where to turn for help. She will continue to be mentioned throughout Jesus’ earthly life. She is with Him at the cross and with the disciples praying after the Ascension. She was a little girl with a big faith and all the strength that is needed for that most difficult thing – submission.

Two other “Mary’s” come to mind. They each followed Jesus. If his mother can teach us with her words, these two ladies teach us by their actions.

Mary of Bethany was all about worship and adoration. Mary lives in Bethany with her sister Martha and brother Lazarus. They are friends of Jesus and hosting a dinner party at their home. Mary and her sister are in stark contrast to each other. Martha is always bustling about serving her guests but Mary simply sits at Jesus’ feet. In Luke 10:38-41, Martha tries to complain about Mary’s “laziness” to Jesus but the Lord defends Mary. He tells Martha that while she lets everything distract her from her guests, Mary has decided to focus on Christ and that is always a good thing.

Probably, the best known story of Mary of Bethany is when she poured perfume on Jesus’ feet at another dinner party at their home. Martha’s reaction is not recorded but she is probably too busy to notice. She is there, serving as usual, as recorded in John 12:2. Mary takes a small jar of very expensive perfume and pours it out on Jesus’ feet. She dries it with her hair. The men present are shocked, but Jesus again defends her. He understands her.

Mary wants to show her love and devotion to Christ with her every movement. She seldom speaks yet her actions tell her story. When her brother Lazarus died she was beside herself with grief . When Jesus arrived on the scene she falls at his feet. She can think of nothing else to do than to throw herself on her Lord’s mercy. The only time Mary does speak is at this moment when she says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”. Jesus, himself, is moved to tears. In a powerful scene Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead and the family is restored. The next time we see Mary is at the dinner party where she is pouring perfume and everyone is wondering if she has lost her mind. She does not speak. She simply shows her love and devotion to God. This is pure worship. She doesn’t care that those present will laugh or worse, have her removed from the room. She simply answers her overwhelming need to worship God regardless of how others will receive it. She is only concerned with Jesus’ response and He understands completely. Worshipping God is a way of saying “Thank you” to your Savior for all he has done and will do for you. How do you express those feeling? Not all of us can be as open and demonstrative as Mary was but can we try to put our love for God first and foremost in everything we do? Mary didn’t hold back; neither should we.

Lastly there is Mary, called the Magdalene. We are told that she had seven demons cast out of her. How horrible her life must have been until the moment of deliverance. She appears in Scripture as a loyal follower as Christ after the demons are removed from her life. She even helps to support Jesus (Luke: 8:1-3). Mary only wanted to be where ever Jesus was. She loved him and wanted to be in his presence.

Yet, she is more than just a picture of devoted love. She stuck around when things got tough. She was at the cross, the burial and even returned to the tomb after the Sabbath. When the empty tomb was discovered, the disciples went home but Mary stuck around. She was crying and didn’t know where else to go. It is then that the risen Christ appears to her. What a wonderful gift that God has given her! The first sighting of the Resurrected One was by Mary!

When things are going well, we want to stay by Jesus. We like to revel in how blessed we are. We slap each other on the back and say “blessed” and “hallelujah” but what happens when things go wrong? And they will go wrong. I hope you know that. It’s not your fault. It will just be a part of God’s plan for your life. Will you be able to stick with Jesus on dark days as well as good times? It will be very hard but we can look to the examples set before us. Mary, the mother of Jesus, shows us faith and trust. Her submission to God’s will is breathtaking. Mary of Bethany lives her life visibly showing her thankfulness to God. Mary Magdalene exudes simple yet profound love, just wanting to be wherever God may put her. A tale of three Mary’s that is still relevant today. Faith, trust, worship and love as it was lived out two thousand years ago and still holds true today.

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