And She Fell at His Feet
Mary of Bethany as a Model of Christian Discipleship
Mary’s brother was dead, and there was nothing she could do to change it. A few days earlier, she and her sister, Martha, had sent for their friend. He was a known healer, but he had yet to arrive. Now, the time for healing had come and gone. All that was left was to sit and to grieve. That’s what Mary was doing when her sister found her.
“He’s here,” Martha said. “And he’s asking for you.”
If He came to heal, He was four days late. Mary went out to meet him, to ask him why he took so long. She would tell Him if He had been here, none of this would have happened. But before she could say any of this, she fell at His feet and wept.
John 11:1–44 tells the full story
Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus were close friends of Jesus, a man who did miraculous things, including healing. Jesus also claimed to be God, which caused problems with religious and political leaders. For that reason, and others, Jesus traveled around a lot.
When a messenger brought news of Lazarus’ dire prognosis, Jesus was far away. But rather than immediately rushing to aid His friends in their time of need, He waited — two days. Why? Because “he loved them,” the Bible tells us.
Jesus was not going to heal Lazarus. Instead, He would perform a miracle that not only showed His love for Lazarus and his sisters but would foreshadow a miracle so great it defined love itself.
Jesus would raise Lazarus from the dead
The following week, He would willingly give his own life as payment for all sin and raise Himself from the dead. In doing so, Jesus would overcome sin, death, and the grave for the sake of Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and us.
Mary knew nothing of these events to come. In the moments immediately following the death of her brother, she only knew grief and confusion. But there, at the feet of Jesus, she found something more powerful than healing. She found surrender.
Mary, a model for following Christ
This isn’t the first time we find Mary in this position, nor is it the last. In fact, three times we find her at the feet of Jesus, and each time she models for us how to follow Christ in the midst of everyday life, including its triumphs and its tragedies.
Mary learned at Jesus’ feet
According to Luke 10:38–42, Mary, together with her sister Martha, hosted a large number of guests who had come to meet Jesus. This took place sometime before their brother Lazarus grew ill.
According to custom, Martha worked diligently to meet the needs of her guests. If you’ve ever hosted or catered a large event, you can relate to Martha in this moment.
At some point, if not at several points during the event, Martha must have looked around and noticed the seemingly convenient absence of her sister.
Eventually, she found Mary, not cooking, not serving, but learning at the feet of Jesus.
In a stereotypical display of sibling rivalry, Martha made her appeal to an authority decidedly above Mary’s head.
“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” (40b)
“Martha, Martha,” Jesus answered, “you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (41–42)
I wonder if Martha turned and stomped into the kitchen or if she shrugged and sat beside Mary. We don’t know. What we do know is that Mary saw past the dirty plates and empty glasses and into the eyes of a man who was exactly who He said He was, God.
“Mary has chosen the good portion,” Jesus told Martha. Elsewhere we have accounts of Jesus seeing past false motives and into the heart of people’s intentions. So, it’s safe to assume that Mary wasn’t just getting out of work, as perhaps Martha was insinuating.
Instead, Mary set aside the burdens of everyday life in order to prioritize the words, the presence, the power of Jesus.
He taught, and she learned, seated at His feet.
Mary worshipped at Jesus’ feet
Sometime after Lazarus’ resurrection, Mary and Martha once again threw a party to celebrate this miracle. John (chapter 12) sets the scene perfectly with its description of a very alive Lazarus reclining against the guest of honor, Jesus.
Once again, Mary fell at Jesus’ feet, this time with a jar of very expensive ointment. To provide perspective, think about what you make in a year. Assuming that it’s somewhere in the area of average, that’s how much this jar of ointment was worth. She poured the ointment on Jesus’ feet and head in an extravagant display of worship. One of the disciples (who we are told had less-than-altruistic motives) waxed indignant that she didn’t simply offer the ointment to be sold and distributed to the poor. Mary didn’t care. She was not focused on ministry. She was focused on Jesus.
As before, Jesus came to her defence.
“Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor, you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” (7–8)
Jesus used the backdrop of Lazarus’ party and the over-the-top gratitude of Mary to link these events to his own impending death, burial, and resurrection.
But more than that, He once again defined priority.
Just as dedication to the teaching of Jesus must take precedence over the busyness of everyday life, the work of ministry must come from a love for Jesus, not from obligation or impure motives.
“The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
To an unbeliever, this might sound self-serving, maybe even megalomaniacal. But the whole of Scripture teaches that our own efforts are worthless. Only when we operate out of God’s love and goodness do we act with true import.
Worship is more than a Sunday gathering where we awkwardly negotiate lyrics we don’t know and gestures we don’t understand. Worship is how we express on the outside what God is doing on the inside.
When we serve others, this is more than a commandment. It’s an act of worship.
This is another lesson we learn from Mary as she falls at the feet of Jesus.
Mary surrendered at Jesus’ feet
Sometimes, life is a party, a time to celebrate. Sometimes, it is a classroom, a time to learn. Sometimes, however, life is a funeral, a time to mourn. It is in these moments when we hold tightest to our greatest source of strength, faith.
Faith is central to the Christian walk
It is faith alone in Christ alone by which we become His disciples. (Eph 2:8) Without faith, it is impossible to please God. (Heb 11:6) It was more than grief that took Mary to the feet of Jesus near her brother’s grave. It was faith, faith that even though things were at their worst, she might find comfort in Jesus.
As Jesus watched Mary grieve, He cried too. He loved Lazarus on a level not even Mary and Martha could understand. He would do more than heal Lazarus. He would resurrect Lazarus. But He wanted to do the same for Mary and the others. They did not need healing or consoling. Like Lazarus, they needed resurrecting. And so do we.
But that new life can only come once we’re willing to fall at the feet of Jesus. In the good times and the bad times, we, too, must put aside our opinions of what He should be or what He should do. Like Lazarus, we have to die before Christ can make us a new creation. Like Mary, we must surrender, finding our only hope and solace at the feet of our Lord.
All scripture references taken from the English Standard Version.
Brandon Abbott is a minister in Nashville, TN where he lives with his wife and three children. Aside from devotional material, Brandon enjoys writing short fiction. Read stories by Brandon on Medium publications like Reedsy, Lit Up, and others.