It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.
~ John 11:2 (NKJV)
The New Testament mentions a half dozen women named Mary (Hebrew "Miriam"):
• Mary of Bethany, the above sister of Lazarus and Martha;
• Mary the mother of Jesus (Matthew 1:16);
• Mary Magdalene, "out of whom [Jesus] had cast seven demons" (Mark 16:9—and Scripture says nothing of her being immoral), who was among the women who followed Jesus and provided for Him and His disciples (Luke 8:1-3), and also among the women present at the crucifixion, who came to the tomb to anoint Jesus' body;
• Mary, mother of James "the Less" and Joses, and wife of Clopas (his Hebrew name is Alphaeus, Mark 3:18), who is apparently the sister of Jesus' mother (John 19:25), and was also present at the crucifixion, burial, and empty tomb of Jesus;
• Mary the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12) and also relative of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10), who opened her home for Christians to gather;
• Mary of Rome, "who worked very hard" (Romans 16:6).
Mary of Bethany not only anoints Jesus the week of His passion, but also appears to be the sinful woman described by Luke, who boldly enters the home of Simon the Pharisee and washes Jesus feet with her tears. Only these two incidents mention a woman wiping Jesus feet with her hair.
Such an act is far more extraordinary than intentionally breaking a bottle of expensive oil—the extravagant gift typically highlighted in sermons about the incident. Yet any woman, especially in ancient Jewish culture, would give a gift of any price more readily than she would use her hair as Mary did.
But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her ...
~ 1 Corinthians 11:15 (NKJV)
First of all, every chaste woman of Jesus' time would keep her hair bound and covered. The mere act of exposing her long hair among a group of men would be scandalous. Second, men (who wished to remain ritually clean) generally avoided physical contact with women (who might be "unclean"—Leviticus 15:18-19), and women certainly wouldn't initiate physical contact. To this day, Bedouin culture does not permit public displays of affection between husbands and wives, but only between brothers and sisters (Song 8:1) or other family members (Genesis 29:10-11).
Yet the most compelling reason a woman wouldn't use her precious and protected hair to wipe feet is the extreme filth involved. Walking the roads shared by livestock resulted in feet as dirty as a stinky diaper. Foot washing was reserved to lowest servant. The rag used as foot wipe would be defiled as much as any modern day disposable wipe used for a baby's bum. The woman who would think to use her hair as one, even for the Lord Himself, would be most unique, and unlikely to be imitated.
Yet there is a still more compelling reason to believe these two incidents describe the same woman, based on comparison of various Scriptures and, (believe it or not), a contemporary movie.
More on that Mary for Friday's post.
Lord Jesus, please make our hearts eager to do whatever pleases You, believing it is never too much for even You.
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Copyright 2012, Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.
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