State Road, Delaware, March 1888
I hardly think of any one among all the interesting characters of scripture history that I have more admired and loved to contemplate than that Mary whose abode was in Bethany. It was probably characteristic of her to “sit at Jesus” feet and hear his word,” rather than to be troubled about other things. This incident is recorded in connection with the first mention we find of her name, but the character is fully borne out in her after life. It was this Mary whose brother Lazarus was sick. The scene at the grave of the deceased brother, and the subsequent one at the supper in the house of Simon, are probably not surpassed in intense and pathetic interest by any event in sacred history. “When Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying, ‘Lord, if thou hadst been here my brother had not died.’ When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping that came with her, he groaned in the spirit and was troubled.” It was Martha and not Mary that raised a somewhat indelicate objection to the stone being removed from the grave, because that he had been dead so long. It was after, and shortly after, these events, that a public supper was tendered to Jesus and his disciples, in the interest of this family, by a wealthy Pharisee of the town. Lazarus was one that sat at meat at the table, while Martha served. In addition to all the occasions of love and devotion that Mary had felt before, was now added this, that the Lord had restored her deceased brother to her from the dead. Faith, hope and joy all seem to be combined in one triumph in Mary”s case. Is it anything at all strange that she should have, in the presence of the disciples, bedewed his feet with tears? But she does not stop at, this. She procures a box of very precious ointment and poured it on his head as he sat at meat. – Matthew xxxvi, 7. The Redeemer vindicated her against all criticisms as touching the propriety of her conduct. When we remember that it. is on record that Jesus loved this family, and that it appears to have been a place of retreat for repose from the bustle and noise and heat, of the oppressive city, we may welt conclude that no vindication is needed. But I suppose some will remember that the Pharisee thought (he did not say) that she was a sinner. People were sinners, in a Jewish sense, when they did not observe all the ceremonies of the Jewish law; and they were sinners, in a Pharisaic sense, when they failed to observe all that the Pharisees enjoined. Christ himself was a sinner in this view, or according to the standard that they had set up. She no doubt felt her sinfulness, and was penitent in his presence, as was Peter when he said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
Those who are at all conversant with the Jewish law know that ceremonial defilement was contracted by the touch. If the Lord Jesus did not know that this woman observed all the rituals required in order to legal sanctification, he would no doubt avoid her touch lest he should encounter ceremonial defilement. These are about the thoughts that the Pharisee thought within himself. The disciples did not show this solicitude. The only trouble with them seemed to have been with Judas, who thought the cost of the ointment could have been put to better use.
Mary is a representative case. There are weeping Marys yet. They will sit at his feet and hear his word; and wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in all the world they will be found. This memorial is written for their sakes.
Mary seems to have been quite a common name among the Jews in those days, and as all those named appear to have been exceptionally devoted disciples, I have regretted that an idea should have obtained, extensively among preachers and poets, that some of these Marys were immoral. Not only are suspicions of this kind entirely without scriptural warrant, but they have not even the countenance of respectable tradition. It would be difficult to find in all the New Testament any instance of stronger testimonials of divine approbation than those given of Mary, the sister of Martha, and Mary Magdalene. Yet these two are quite frequently confused with each other, and consequently both subjected to approbious epithets. Mary, of the city of Magdala, seems to have been a woman of wealth and distinction, yet a subject of much affliction. She is named as one among those whom Jesus healed of evil spirits and infirmities. A complication of diseases, the healing of which resulted, in her ease, in a life of humble devotion and profound gratitude. I remember once reading a sermon (it was called a sermon), the author of which had acquired quite a notoriety, and was sometimes spoken of as Brooklyn”s great preacher, the subject being this anointing by Mary. After making a kind of theatrical exhibition of the princely grandeur of the place, and the sumptuousness of the feast, the number of attendants and the like, the guests are represented as being shocked by the entrance unbidden of a dirty hag from the street with disheveled hair and tattered and soiled garments, intruding herself like a crazy woman into the midst of the festivities of the place. I only allude to this, and only thus a sentence or two of it, by way of contrast, to show what absurdities can be palmed off by preachers, and readily accepted without protest by numerous hearers, who, it might seem, had never read their Bibles at all. “It. was that Mary that appointed the Lord with ointment whose brother Lazarus was sick.” Of her Jesus testified that she had chosen that good part that should not be taken away from her. It was that Mary whom Jesus loved. Near to this sacred retreat occurred the last interviews between Jesus and his disciples on earth. From the heights of Bethany he pronounced his benediction and ascended to his Father, and their Father; to his God, and their God. While there was no stain upon the character of the Redeemer, neither was there upon the character of those with whom he associated. I have felt desirous to remove, if possible, from the minds of brethren and sisters, traditional errors in regard to important scriptural events, and especially when they reflect unfavorably upon those characters that adorn the scriptural pages.
Yours, in fellowship,