Frthom's Blog

There’s Something About Mary

Posted in God, religion, theology by frthom on March 30, 2010

In all four gospels of the New Testament, as Jesus’ fate is secured and his passion begins, a woman comes to him and anoints him with a precious ointment, an act of great significance in Old and New Testament times. Those are the only consistent specifics that we have about that event because it varies significantly in each gospel.

We do not know for certain who the woman was and what was her specific intent. We do not know for certain whether it was Christ’s feet or his head that was anointed because it happens both ways in the different gospels. And, much to the chagrin of feminists, we do not know why the act did not receive the kind of recognition or import that Jesus gave it in Mark (14:9) when he said, “And truly I say to you, whenever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

Matthew’s Gospel portrays the anointing in similar fashion to Mark, while Luke paints a portrait, not of a prophet but a sinful, wicked female, groveling in her search for forgiveness. It is in John’s Gospel that the woman is finally given a name, Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus and Martha.

Down through the centuries, hundreds, perhaps thousands of books have been written about women in the New Testament, with special attention paid to Mary, Jesus’ mother, and Mary Magdalene, a special woman in Jesus’ life, debated to be either saint or sinner or a bit of both. Little has been directed toward Mary of Bethany who may have been most representative of the woman around Jesus in the New Testament.

It is Mary of Bethany who anoints Jesus, quietly assuming the role of a prophet in the first vivid foreshadowing of his fate. It is she who demonstrates the proper spiritual perspective in reference to the man who, for many, will become the savior of the human race, and revealed in subsequent theology as the Son of God. It is she who is thought by some to have become Jesus’ most effective evangelist.

The lack of attention paid to Mary of Bethany aggravates University of Notre Dame professor Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza in her book–seen from a feminist perspective, In Memory of Her. Dr. Fiorenza says that male chroniclers and interpreters of New Testament events cannot bring themselves to admit the important roles that women played as disciples, as proclaimers of Jesus’ miraculous resurrection, or, in the case of Mark’s unidentified woman, the highly honored role of the prophetic anointer of a King.

“In the passion account of Mark’s Gospel, three disciples figure prominently: on one hand, Judas who betrays Jesus, and Peter who denies him and on the other hand, the unnamed woman who anoints Jesus,” said Dr. Fiorenza. “While the stories of Judas and Peter are engraved in the memory of Christians, the story of this woman is virtually forgotten.”


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