Here is a NT example of a missed intimacy opportunity, the occasion of Jesus being anointed by Mary, Martha’s sister.
1 Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. John 11:1-2 (NKJV)
We know Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus yet what can we learn from the incident itself?
1 Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. 2 There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. 3 Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. 4 Then one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, 5 “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it. 7 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. 8 For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.” John 12:1-8 (NKJV)
1 After two days it was the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take Him by trickery and put Him to death. 2 But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar of the people.” 3 And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head. 4 But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, “Why was this fragrant oil wasted? 5 For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they criticized her sharply. 6 But Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. 7 For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. 8 She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. 9 Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” Mark 14:1-9 (NKJV)
There are a few key things in these two passages. The event took place in Bethany at the house of Simon. He is called Simon the leper in the Matthew and Mark accounts (Matt. 26:6-16, Mk. 14:1-11). Given the close proximity of the meal together is it likely that he had been healed by Jesus and was a former leper as under Mosaic Law active lepers could not be around uninfected people. John 12:4 also tells us that Judas was Simon’s son. So we have Jesus and His followers having supper with Simon who appears to be the father of Judas. This would heighten Judas sense of offense as Jesus publicly rebuked his attitude in front of his father and friends (Jn. 12:4-7) and immediately after this event he went to the priests to betray Jesus (Matt. 26:14-16, Mk. 14:10-11).
In this scene Jesus friends Lazarus, Martha and Mary are there. Lazarus is a guest at the table, Martha is serving and so is Mary. However Mary’s service is of a different sort and has been spoken of over and over again since it took place. In this event Mary had an intimate encounter with Jesus through her brokenness. Those sitting around the table had the same opportunity but unlike Mary failed to see their need. It is a bit like a verse in Luke 5.
17 Now it happened on a certain day, as He was teaching, that there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting by, who had come out of every town of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was present to heal them. Luke 5:17 (NKJV)
In the scene described in this verse it appears based on their judgements that what the Pharisees and teachers of the law needed was to have their hearts healed. The context and their attitude certainly point to that. Yet they missed their appointment with Jesus because they were offended and focused on the wrong things. This was the same issue in the meal at Simon’s house in Bethany.
So how do we apply this? When we sit in a place of judgment we are unable to sit in a place of intimacy and thus miss the opportunity to receive life (see Ps. 1:1-3). If the guests really wanted to minister to the poor they would have had plenty of opportunities. It appears they thought Jesus would be impressed with their alleged concern for the poor but they misjudged both Jesus and Mary. Mary’s actions are not a license for wasteful living. They are an encouragement to pour out our lives on Jesus. As I once heard Jack Deere say in a message, “We are all going to waste our lives on something. Why not Jesus?”
NOTES – Luke 7:36-50 describe a similar event. There has been much debate down through the centuries whether this is a different perspective on the same event or another event earlier in Jesus ministry as it appears to have happened in the region of Galilee not Judea. Also there has been great debate whether Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany are the same person or two individuals. My own belief is that they are one and the same. See my rationale below.
There were two Mary’s at the cross, two who anointed Jesus body with spices and two who went to the tomb at the time of His resurrection. If there are three Mary’s, Jesus mother, Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene, then who does not go? Mary Magdalene is clearly identified as being at the cross along with Mary the mother of James and Joses (Matt. 27:55-56). Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are both involved in preparing Jesus for burial (Matt. 27:61) and both go to the tomb Sunday morning (Matt. 28:1). Matthew notes in both 27:61 and 28:1 that there are only two Mary’s, Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary.” Who is the other Mary? She is identified by Mark as the mother of “James the Less, and of Joses and Salome” (Mk. 15:40, 47, 16:1). If we identify the mother of these three people we identify the Mary. We find in the gospels that Jesus had brothers and sisters (Matt. 13:55-56). In this passage his sisters are not named but four of His brothers are, James, Joses, Simon and Judas. Two of these four are named as children of “the other Mary.” We also know that of the twelve original apostles, James, with Peter and John, was part of the inner circle (Matt. 17:1, Mk. 5:37). However, after the church in Jerusalem was established James the brother of John was the first apostle martyred (Acts 12:2). Later the key apostle in Jerusalem was another James. Jesus’ half brother James (Acts 15:13, Gal. 1:19). In fact early in Paul’s ministry James, Peter and John were perceived by Paul as the key apostles in the early church (Gal. 2:9). This would explain why the son of the “other Mary” was referred to as “James the Less.” As Jesus half-brother he took over in Jerusalem the apostleship of the “greater” James, John’s brother.