Easter without Hindsight: Mary, the trainee rabbi?
As we have seen the business, and the ‘busy-ness’, of religion can sometimes lead people to worship things like piles of stone, ancient buildings and cherished ceremonies and rituals. At worst such devotion can sometimes lead people away from, rather than towards, God. Not all religious people steeped in ancient ways have their vision distorted though.
Many in Jerusalem alongside Jeshua did grasp what he was about. The gospel writer John, for example, says (John 12:11) that ‘many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him’. Matthew (Mt 26: 3-5), reports that the chief priests’ plotted to arrest Jeshua but decided not to do so during the Passover Feast ‘or there may be a riot among the people’. We met Matthew last week: He was originally the Capernaum tax-collector called Levi.
One of many who clearly understood Jeshua’s teaching and purpose was a woman who was at a supper in the village of Bethany just before Jessie was arrested. Matthew doesn’t name her but John says it’s Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha. They hosted Jeshua when he came to Jerusalem.
Mary caught onto Jeshua’s teaching quite early. There had been previous visits by Jeshua. Mary had left her sister, Martha, with the housework (Lk 10:38-42) to ‘sit at the Master’s feet and listen to his teaching.’ There is no suggestion in the gospel of Mary just gazing at her hero either. Mary sat at her Master’s feet just as St Paul (Acts 22.3) ‘sat at the feet of Gamaliel’ (a legendary rabbi of the day) in order to study to be a rabbi.
In the first century Middle East that was scandalous. Houses were divided into male and female areas. Martha’s protest was not that Mary had abandoned her in the kitchen. Martha was incensed that Mary had crossed the very real boundary into male space. Today we might say that she broke though a glass wall, or a glass ceiling. Mary was taking her place as a would-be teacher and preacher alongside the male disciples. Jeshua endorsed her right to do so too.
At the supper in Bethany Mary is moved to an act of extravagant generosity. She pours a vast amount of perfume over him. In the light of the fact that she joined the men as Jeshua’s trainee rabbis their reactions say much. The other disciples scold her for wasting money. Jeshua, on the other hand, can see that Mary has realised what will happen next.
It is only days until Passover and Jeshua is casting himself as the Passover Lamb. To Jeshua it’s the time when humanity will be rescued from sin and death. The ancient covenant that God first cut with Abraham in the book of Genesis, will be renewed through the death of a first-born. The men around Jeshua just don’t seem to get it; maybe they didn’t listen to Jeshua enough. As when the freed Israelites left Egypt there will be haste. Mary knows there won’t be much time to anoint Jeshua’s body. She knows it better be done now.