Wednesday, May 24, 2006

On distractions and devotions

The topic of the day is Mary of Bethany. This the Mary who sat and listened to Jesus, the Mary who confronted Jesus about Lazarus' death, the Mary who wiped Jesus feet with her hair and an incredibly expensive oily perfume. We know a lot about her for a woman in the Bible, and poor Martha has suffered from comparison to her sister. Was this true all her life? Was Mary the prettier, sweeter one by nature, putting Martha in a position to have to take charge, get things done, and by contrast seem like a grump? Who was older? Were both unmarried all their lives, or widows? So we really don't know a great deal about her, and I'm not sure it matters. The stories are not there to reveal her character, but to advance the story of the gospel. Real people though Biblical characters are, they are foils to an extent.

Mary's devotion was profound, and the two stories (Luke 10, John 12) have one thing in common. Mary is criticized for devotion, and Jesus tells the critics to back off, in so many words. How many times has one group of Christians criticized the devotional excesses (in their thinking) of another group? We don't have a right to do so. I have a right to my own level of devotion, even if you think I could spend the money or time in some other way. That seems to be the clear teaching here. How are we to emulate Mary? By not being held back by the actual or potential criticism of others when it comes to faith choices.

Sure, we can overdo it. I don't think we're in much danger of that. There's such a thing as self-preservation! We're far more likely to balk at truly expressing ourselves to Christ in freedom than we are to giving too much.

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