Charles H.‭ ‬Dyer

B. Childress
Jan 27 2013


I once worked in the banking business.‭  ‬No,‭ ‬I didn’t work for any of the banks that collapsed...nor did I ever receive a
multimillion dollar bonus.‭  (‬I never received‭ ‬
any bonus‭!)  ‬To help pay for my graduate studies I worked part-time as a
teller at the drive-in window of a small local bank.‭  ‬They needed part-time help,‭ ‬and as a graduate student I needed a

Every weekday‭ (‬except holidays‭) ‬I sat at my window overseeing two drive-through lanes.‭  ‬Most afternoons were
predictable.‭  ‬But I dreaded Fridays as well as both the fifteenth and final days of each month.‭  ‬Those were the high-
volume days when lines of cars would stretch back to the street.‭  ‬And if the fifteenth or the final day of the month fell‭ ‬
Friday,‭ ‬the workers cashing paychecks,‭ ‬stores making deposits,‭ ‬and individuals getting money for the weekend
overwhelmed us.

The most stressful moment of all on those days came when we closed the bank and‭ “‬balanced out‭” ‬for the day.‭  ‬The
process seemed simple enough.‭  ‬Start with the opening balance in my cash drawer.‭  ‬Add the slips for cash deposits.‭  ‬
Subtract the checks and slips for cash withdrawals…and pray to God the closing balance matched the actual amount of
money remaining‭!  ‬If the drawer was‭ “‬out of balance,‭” ‬I was forced to go back and check every transaction to see if the
slips matched each cash deposit and withdrawal.‭  ‬A laborious,‭ ‬but necessary,‭ ‬process.

Balance benefits more than bank tellers.‭  ‬It’s essential for living life successfully.‭  ‬Balance is the ability to hold everything
in harmony…to keep differing elements in a state of equilibrium.‭  ‬We don’t think much about balance until something
goes wrong that throws our lives into disarray.‭  

  • While reconciling your checkbook with your monthly bank statement you realize you forgot to enter a check for‭ ‬
    $150‭…‬and your checkbook has been‭ ‬out of balance.

  • You begin an exercise program but develop severe cramping while working out.‭  ‬A blood test shows a chemical‭ ‬
    imbalance…a potassium deficiency…is causing the cramping.

  • Your car steering wheel shakes and vibrates as you drive.‭  ‬A mechanic identifies the problem…your tires are‭ ‬out
    of balance.

  • You awaken in the morning.‭  ‬But as you stand up,‭ ‬waves of dizziness and nausea overwhelm you,‭ ‬forcing
    you back into bed.‭  ‬You call your doctor who suspects an inner ear infection that is throwing off your‭ ‬sense of

Living a life of integrity requires balance.‭  ‬Solomon,‭ ‬the wise king who unfortunately lived much of his life out of balance,‭ ‬
concluded in the end:‭ “‬There is a time for everything,‭ ‬and a season for every activity under heaven‭” (‬Ecclesiastes‭ ‬3:1‭)‬.‭  ‬
The difficulty is discovering God’s balance.

Without a sense of balance some Christians‭
‬burn out from overactivity while others‭ ‬rust out from lack of involvement.‭  ‬
Still others‭ ‬
foul out from wrong decisions and bad choices.‭  ‬In any case…you’re out‭!  ‬Jesus recognized‭ – ‬and taught‭ – ‬
the importance of balance.‭

On one particular occasion Jesus sent the twelve disciples on a vital mission throughout Israel‭ (‬Mark‭ ‬6:7-13‭)‬.‭  ‬They
preached,‭ ‬cast out demons,‭ ‬and performed miraculous healings.‭  ‬When they came back to Jesus,‭ ‬they were wild with
success,‭ ‬brimming over with enthusiasm.‭  ‬Crowds followed them back to the Master‭!  ‬Pandemonium prevailed as the
masses packed ever more closely around Jesus and His disciples.‭  ‬Jesus and the disciples‭ “‬did not even have a chance
to eat‭” (‬6:31‭)‬.‭  ‬Men and women were pressing in from all sides,‭ ‬hoping to see‭ – ‬or experience‭ – ‬these miracle workers in
action.‭  ‬It was an exciting and exhausting time.

And then Jesus said,‭ “‬Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest‭” (‬Mark‭ ‬6:31‭)‬.‭  ‬I picture the
disciples almost shaking their heads in disbelief.‭  “‬What‭!  ‬Leave when the excitement is just beginning to build‭?  ‬The
discipleship business is booming‭!  ‬Sure we’re hungry,‭ ‬but we can’t stop now‭!”  ‬They were preoccupied with ministry,‭ ‬but
they needed a lesson in balance.‭  ‬Too much busyness…even when it’s busyness on behalf of God…can be harmful.

What is the key for maintaining balance‭?  ‬How can we keep our lives from spinning out of control‭?  ‬Perhaps we can find
some answers in a home Jesus visited numerous times…the home of Mary,‭ ‬Martha,‭ ‬and Lazarus in the village of
Bethany.‭  ‬We are invited into their home on three separate occasions in the Bible.‭  ‬And each visit is instructive.


As Jesus and His disciples traveled through Israel they relied on friends and followers to supply food and lodging.‭  ‬
Ordinary individuals opened their homes to show hospitality to the Son of God.‭  ‬Most remain anonymous,‭ ‬but
one special family is identified by name.‭  ‬Perhaps it’s because their location near Jerusalem made their home a
particular favorite.‭  ‬Perhaps it’s because of the close-knit bond that developed between the two sisters,‭ ‬their brother,‭ ‬
and the Lord.‭  ‬Or perhaps it’s because of the unique events that took place inside the walls of their house.‭  ‬But for
whatever reason,‭ ‬the home of Mary,‭ ‬Martha,‭ ‬and Lazarus took on special significance in the life of our Lord.

The village of Bethany sits on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives.‭  ‬Though Jews from the northern part of the
country could travel directly south from Galilee to Jerusalem through Samaria,‭ ‬many chose to bypass that region‭ – ‬
adding an additional two or three days to their journey‭ – ‬because of the animosity between the Jews and
the Samaritans.‭  ‬These Jews took a more roundabout road to Jerusalem that led them down the eastern side of the
Jordan Valley toward the Dead Sea.‭  ‬The travelers would then cross the Jordan near Jericho and make the long,‭ ‬winding
journey up from Jericho to Jerusalem.‭  ‬After a steep climb through the Judean Wilderness,‭ ‬the Mount of Olives
would rise up as the last obstacle to Jerusalem.‭  ‬Bethany sat just below the brow of the hill on its eastern side,‭ ‬a mere
two miles from Jerusalem.‭  ‬The village made a logical resting place after the daylong journey from Jericho.

Jesus and His disciples used both roadways to travel to and from Jerusalem.‭  ‬On one occasion Jesus‭ “‬had to go through
Samaria‭” ‬because of a divine appointment with a woman at a well‭ (‬John‭ ‬4:4‭)‬.‭  ‬But on other occasions Jesus traveled
through Jericho on His way to Jerusalem‭ (‬see Matthew‭ ‬20:29‭)‬.‭  ‬His friends and followers who lived along the different
roads had no way of knowing when‭ – ‬or if‭ – ‬Jesus and His disciples might stop to seek lodging.

The gospel of Luke presents every hostess’s nightmare.‭  ‬Friends dropping by without notice.‭  ‬Unexpected…but not
unwelcome‭!  “‬As Jesus and his disciples were on their way,‭ ‬he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened
her home to him‭” (‬Luke‭ ‬10:38‭)‬.

Picture the scene.‭  ‬No sooner had Jesus and the disciples walked through the door than Martha sprang into action.‭  ‬
Someone needs to go to the cistern to draw more water to wash their feet.‭  ‬But what about the evening meal‭?  ‬Extra
grain must be ground for bread.‭  ‬Wait‭!  ‬Before grinding the grain,‭ ‬I’ll need still more water to prepare the dough.‭  ‬Stop‭!  ‬
Before I prepare the dough,‭ ‬the fire should be burning in the oven.‭  ‬Oh no‭!  ‬We’re almost out of firewood.‭ ‬Someone
needs to collect extra firewood before we start the fire.‭  ‬Hold it‭!  ‬We don’t have enough fruit or vegetables to feed all the
guests.‭  ‬Someone needs to go to the market to buy the necessary produce.

Martha’s mind went into overdrive.‭  “‬But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made‭” (‬Luke‭ ‬
10:40‭)‬.‭  ‬Don’t judge Martha too harshly.‭  ‬Hospitality was an important part of ancient Near Eastern culture,‭ ‬and Martha
was serving Israel’s Messiah.‭  ‬My wife sometimes reminds me that if it weren’t for the Marthas of the world nothing would
ever get done.‭  ‬Martha,‭ ‬the conscientious host,‭ ‬was responsible for running the household,‭ ‬and she took her job

But Martha was not the only woman in the house.‭  ‬She had a younger sister,‭ ‬Mary.‭  ‬While Martha ran around drawing
water,‭ ‬washing,‭ ‬grinding,‭ ‬kneading,‭ ‬baking,‭ ‬peeling,‭ ‬Mary‭ “‬sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said‭” (‬Luke‭ ‬10:39‭)‬.‭  ‬
Oblivious to the whirlwind of activity taking place around her,‭ ‬Mary sat quietly,‭ ‬soaking in the words of her Lord.

I suspect Martha first tried some‭ “‬subtle‭” ‬ways to get Mary’s attention.‭  ‬A few glares in Mary’s direction.‭  ‬A few clicks of
her tongue to her teeth.‭  ‬Some clearing of her throat…loudly‭!  ‬Perhaps she carried a pot of water just a little too
conspicuously through the room on her way back from the cistern,‭ ‬pausing just long enough to sign aloud.‭  ‬But it was all
in vain.‭  ‬Mary remained planted at the Lord’s feet,‭ ‬her eyes glued to His face.‭  ‬She listened so intently to the Lord she
never noticed her sister’s preparations,‭ ‬or her rising level of frustration.

Martha finally chose a more direct course of action.‭  ‬If Mary listened so intently to Jesus,‭ ‬then Martha would get Jesus to
set her straight.‭  ‬And besides,‭ ‬Jesus should have noticed Mary wasn’t acting as a proper hostess.‭  ‬So Martha marched
up to Jesus and said,‭ “‬Lord,‭ ‬don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself‭?  ‬Tell her to help me‭!”
(‬Luke‭ ‬10:40‭)‬.‭  ‬Bam‭!  ‬Martha had the subtlety of a two-by-four.

Jesus‭’ ‬gentle response certainly raised some eyebrows in a society that expected men to sit around and
discuss‭ “‬weighty issues‭” ‬while women did housework.‭  “’‬Martha,‭ ‬Martha,‭’ ‬the Lord answered,‭ ‘‬you are worried and upset
about many things,‭ ‬but only one thing is needed.‭  ‬Mary has chosen what is better,‭ ‬and it will not be taken away from
her‭’” (‬Luke‭ ‬10:41-42‭)‬.‭ ‬Martha was so‭ “‬worried and upset‭” ‬about the details that she missed the big picture.‭  ‬Jesus was in
her house teaching…and she was too busy counting cups to pay attention.

Unfortunately,‭ ‬we often miss the point of this story.‭  ‬Our response goes something like this:‭ ‬Boy‭! ‬If Jesus ever came to
my house,‭ ‬I wouldn’t worry about fixing dinner.‭  ‬I’d call Domino’s or Little Caesars and sit at His feet till the pizza arrived‭!  ‬
But Jesus had more in mind than dinner.

Everything Martha was doing was good and proper.‭  ‬Her problem was that she focused so much on these details
that she lost her perspective.‭  ‬She wanted to prepare a feast when a simple meal would have sufficed.‭  ‬She worried
about drawing water from the cistern while the fountain of living water sat in the next room.‭  ‬She fretted over preparing
enough bread while the bread of life lodged in her house.‭  ‬She concentrated on the trees…and missed the forest.

Our society fosters the‭ “‬Martha syndrome.‭”  ‬We reward diligence and applaud activity.‭  ‬We crave‭ “‬labor-saving devices‭” ‬
to give us more free time.‭  ‬But we use those devices to cram more activity into the same twenty-four-hour period.‭  ‬Our
news comes from RSS feeds on our computer rather than the newspaper or television.‭  ‬Our cell phones must have
Internet access.‭  ‬And texting has replaced e-mail for many because it’s more immediate.‭  ‬In the midst of all this activity,‭ ‬
like Martha,‭ ‬we become‭ “‬worried and upset about many things.‭”

Are you too busy to pray and read your Bible‭?  ‬How much time do you take each day to sit at the Lord’s feet‭?  ‬Ouch‭!  ‬
For many of us,‭ ‬it seems easier to live life as Martha rather than Mary.‭  ‬We have so much to do,‭ ‬so many projects to
accomplish.‭  ‬It’s just hard to find time to spend with Jesus.‭  ‬But a life in balance will carve out time with the Lord.


If someone were to set to music Jesus‭’ ‬visits to the home of Mary and Martha,‭ ‬the second visit would begin in a minor
key.‭  ‬In the first visit Luke focused on the two sisters,‭ ‬but as the apostle John reports the second visit he reveals
they had a brother,‭ ‬Lazarus.‭  ‬In John‭ ‬11‭ ‬we join Jesus and His disciples as a messenger arrives from Bethany with an
urgent request from Mary and Martha.

Jesus was staying‭ “‬across the Jordan…where John had been baptizing in the early days‭” (‬John‭ ‬10:40‭)‬.‭  ‬The messenger
had traveled from Bethany to Jericho,‭ ‬forded the Jordan River‭ – ‬probably by small boat‭ – ‬journeyed several more miles
to another Bethany‭ (“‬beyond the Jordan‭”) ‬where he heard Jesus might be ministering.‭  ‬Two towns named Bethany,‭ ‬
barely twenty miles apart,‭ ‬each visited by Jesus on multiple occasions.‭  ‬Yet for Mary and Martha the other Bethany might
as well have been on the other side of the Roman Empire,‭ ‬because it was too far away to summon Jesus in time to save

After traveling all day the messenger found Jesus and delivered his heartfelt plea from the two sisters,‭ “‬Lord,‭ ‬the
one you love is sick‭” (‬John‭ ‬11:3‭)‬.‭  ‬Lazarus was dying,‭ ‬and these faithful sisters needed a miracle from God’s Messiah to
save him.‭  ‬Unfortunately,‭ ‬Lazarus probably died shortly after the messenger left Bethany.‭  ‬It took about one day to travel
from Bethany through the rugged Judean Wilderness to the region east of Jericho,‭ ‬and at least one day to return back
to Bethany.‭  ‬Before making the journey to Bethany Jesus‭ “‬stayed where he was two more days‭” (‬John‭ ‬11:6‭) – ‬making a
total of at least four days from the time the messenger left Bethany until Jesus arrived.‭  ‬And on His arrival Jesus was told
that Lazarus‭ “‬had already been in the tomb for four days‭” (‬John‭ ‬11:17‭)‬.

Imagine the grief of Mary and Martha.‭  ‬Once they realized how ill their brother was,‭ ‬they sent for the one person who
could heal him.‭  ‬They knew from reports where Jesus was ministering.‭  ‬As Lazarus’s condition deteriorated they
knew the messenger might not reach Jesus in time.‭  ‬And yet,‭ ‬they must have hoped against hope that Jesus had
somehow sensed their need and had already started toward Bethany.‭  ‬Glancing from Lazarus…to the door…then back
to Lazarus,‭ ‬they desperately prayed that Jesus would arrive just in time to heal their brother.‭  ‬But the door never
opened…Jesus didn’t come‭ …‬and Lazarus died before the day ended.

The mind-numbing suddenness of Lazarus’s death and burial struck Mary and Martha with the force of a Roman
battering ram.‭  ‬They quickly prepared his body for burial and put it in the family tomb before sundown.‭  ‬The family must
have laid Lazarus to rest just about the time the messenger reached Jesus with the news of his illness.

Late the next day the messenger returned with still more disturbing news.‭  ‬Yes,‭ ‬he had found Jesus and delivered the
message.‭  ‬No,‭ ‬Jesus was not following just behind.‭  ‬Jesus had seemed remarkably calm on hearing the news.‭  ‬After
announcing,‭ “‬This sickness will not end in death‭” (‬John‭ ‬11:4‭)‬,‭ ‬Jesus decided to stay where He was for a few more days.‭  ‬
No,‭ ‬Jesus did not say when…or if…He would come to Bethany.

Two additional days pass in a blur of grief and bewilderment.‭  ‬Why hadn’t Jesus come‭?  ‬How could He have been so
wrong about Lazarus’s physical condition‭?  ‬Why had He seemed so unconcerned‭?  ‬Would He come to pay
His respects‭?  ‬How should they respond‭?  ‬Friends,‭ ‬relatives,‭ ‬and neighbors surrounded Mary and Martha to offer
comfort in their time of grief,‭ ‬but these two sisters couldn’t get their minds off Jesus…or their brother Lazarus.‭  

Then a close friend ran into the house and whispered to Mary and Martha,‭ “‬I just saw Jesus and His disciples walking up
the road from the Judean Wilderness toward town.‭”  ‬Mary could not bring herself to leave the house,‭ ‬but Martha rushed
out to see the Lord.

Perhaps Martha’s decision to meet Jesus as He entered the village came from her desire to be the ever-gracious
hostess.‭  ‬Or perhaps it sprang from a deeper spiritual understanding of who Jesus was.‭  ‬Or perhaps it’s because she
was a woman of action.‭  ‬In any case Martha went to greet the One who,‭ ‬had He come just four days earlier,‭ ‬could have
prevented Lazarus’s death.‭  ‬Her greeting contained a mixture of faith and sadness.‭  “‬Lord…if you had been here,‭ ‬my
brother would not have died‭” (‬John‭ ‬11:21‭)‬.

Martha and Mary must have played…and replayed…the‭ “‬if only‭” ‬game countless times over the past few days.‭  “‬If only
Jesus had been here when Lazarus became ill.‭”  “‬If only‭…”  ‬The words became such a frequent refrain that both sisters
greeted the Lord the same way.‭  ‬When Mary later went out to meet Jesus,‭ ‬the first words from her lips were,‭ “‬Lord,‭ ‬if you
had been here,‭ ‬my brother would not have died‭” (‬John‭ ‬11:32‭)‬.

Two sisters consumed with grief.‭  ‬Stressed out by circumstances beyond their control.‭  ‬Struggling with disappointment.‭  ‬
But Martha kept her sense of balance.‭  ‬Several important differences between Mary and Martha highlight Martha’s ability
to maintain perspective in this particular instance.

  • Mary stayed home while Martha went out to meet Jesus‭ (‬11:20‭)

  • Mary focused only on what Jesus could have done in the past‭ (‬11:32‭) ‬while Martha added,‭ “‬but I know that even
    now God will give you whatever you ask‭” (‬11:21-22‭)‬.

  • Mary was consumed with grief‭ (‬11:33‭) ‬while Martha gained strength from the certainty of a future resurrection and
    her trust in Jesus as‭ “‬the Christ,‭ ‬the Son of God‭” (‬11:24,‭ ‬27‭)‬.

The specific details of Jesus‭’ ‬encounter with Mary and Martha are significant.‭  ‬In this particular event,‭ ‬Martha is the sister
with the greater sense of balance and perspective.‭  ‬Both believed Jesus could have healed Lazarus while he was still
alive.‭  ‬But once Lazarus died,‭ ‬Mary could only grieve.‭  ‬Martha,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬found stability by seeking out Jesus
and trusting in His ability to solve life’s problems.

Martha revealed her faith through her three confessions to Jesus.‭  ‬First,‭ ‬she believed Jesus could alter events and
circumstances…even death.‭  ‬Benjamin Franklin wrote,‭ “‬Nothing is certain but death and taxes.‭”  ‬Death is the last great
unalterable.‭  ‬As long as there is life,‭ ‬there is hope.‭  ‬But can hope extend on into the grave‭?  ‬Martha’s answer was,‭ ‬Yes‭!  ‬
Lazarus had been dead four days,‭ “‬but I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.

Second,‭ ‬Martha believed her separation from Lazarus was only temporary.‭  ‬Her brother would live again.‭  ‬The pain and
heartache she now felt would someday vanish,‭ ‬and God would reunite her with her brother.‭  “‬I know he will rise again in
the resurrection at the last day.‭”

Third,‭ ‬Martha believed Jesus was the promised Messiah who was also God’s Son.‭  ‬Bible teachers focus on Peter’s great
confession at Caesarea Philippi.‭  “‬You are the Christ,‭ ‬the Son of the living God‭” (‬Matthew‭ ‬16:16‭)‬.‭  ‬But few notice this
deep woman of faith from Bethany came to the same settled conviction.‭  “‬I believe that you are the Christ,‭ ‬the Son of
God,‭ ‬who was to come into the world‭” (‬John‭ ‬11:27‭)‬.

Martha could believe in Jesus‭’ ‬ability to influence the future because she understood who Jesus was.‭  ‬He was not just a
good man.‭  ‬He was not just a prophet.‭  ‬He was not just a teacher.‭  ‬He was not just a miracle worker.‭  ‬He was Israel’s
Messiah,‭ ‬and He was the eternal Son of God.

How big is your Jesus‭?  ‬Do you believe He can make a genuine change in life’s struggles‭?  ‬Do you believe He will
someday be able to wipe every tear from your eyes‭?  ‬Do you believe He is the eternal Son of God‭?  ‬It’s so easy to forget
these great truths in the middle of our struggles.

But this knowledge provides balance,‭ ‬enables us to endure…and allows us to maintain our integrity.

Martha maintained balance in her time of grief by looking beyond the physical loss of her brother to God who created
life…who sustained life…and who would someday restore life.‭  ‬In viewing life through God’s eternal perspective Martha
found peace…yet she still had much to learn.

Now Martha wanted Mary to discover the same sense of understanding.‭  ‬After making her great confession,‭ ‬
Martha‭ “‬went back and called her sister Mary aside.‭  ‘‬The Teacher is here,‭’ ‬she said,‭ ‘‬and is asking for you‭’” (‬John‭ ‬11:
28‭)‬.‭  ‬Mary went to the Lord and‭ “‬fell at his feet‭” (‬John‭ ‬11:32‭)‬.

In each of Jesus‭’ ‬three visits to Bethany we find Mary kneeling at His feet.‭  ‬In the first visit she knelt at His feet to learn.‭  ‬
Here she kneels at His feet to mourn.‭  ‬In the next visit she will kneel at His feet to worship.‭  ‬Mary struggled to maintain
balance as she grieved over the death of her brother.‭  ‬But she instinctively knew she would find her answers at the feet
of Jesus.

The crowd waited in curious anticipation as Jesus and the sisters went to the grave.‭  ‬They understood the depth of His
love as they watched Him weep.‭  ‬They speculated what might have happened had the Master arrived before Lazarus
died.‭  ‬And they gasped when they heard Him give the command to roll the stone away from the mouth of the tomb.

Martha spoke and expressed the thought that must have been in everyone’s mind.‭  “‬But,‭ ‬Lord…by this time there is a
bad odor,‭ ‬for he has been there four days‭” (‬John‭ ‬11:39‭)‬.‭  ‬We know he’s dead.‭  ‬Please let us remember him as he was
when we put him in the tomb…wrapped in clean linen and covered with fragrant perfume.‭  ‬Don’t remind us again of the
awful corruption of death.

Jesus gently reminded Martha of the need to believe…to keep trusting in difficult times.‭  ‬Then He shouted,‭ “‬Lazarus,‭ ‬
come out‭!”  ‬Had we been there as photographers for the‭ ‬
Jerusalem Post,‭ ‬it would have been difficult deciding which
scene was more dramatic.‭  ‬Turn your camera to the left and photograph a man wrapped like a mummy staggering to the
entrance of the tomb.‭  ‬Or turn your camera to the right and catch the faces of the crowd watching Lazarus come
from the tomb.‭  ‬Eyes wide open…jaws hanging slack…bodies frozen in place…hands half raised in fright and

After a few startled moments,‭ ‬Martha and Mary must have rushed over to release their brother from the grave
clothes…the last vestiges of death still holding Lazarus in clothes…the last vestiges of death still holding Lazarus in their
grip.‭  ‬Mourning turned to feasting as the sisters welcomed their brother back from the grave.‭  ‬And they understood the
importance of trusting God to maintain stability and balance in a chaotic world.‭  ‬God’s eternal power is not reserved only
for the‭ “‬sweet bye and bye,‭” ‬it’s available to us in the stressful here and now.


Two visits to the home of Mary and Martha.‭  ‬Two very different occasions.‭  ‬Two women growing in their faith who each
demonstrate great balance at different times.‭  ‬But we must stop by the hometown of these remarkable women one more
time.‭  ‬It’s early spring,‭ ‬and the Mount of Olives is covered with a carpet of green grass,‭ ‬punctuated by small patches of
red and yellow flowers.‭  ‬The sky is blue,‭ ‬and the temperature is already beginning to warm.‭  ‬People are
scurrying around cleaning their homes and purging them of leaven.‭  ‬Passover is just six days away.

Tomorrow Jesus will ride a colt down the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem as thousands of cheering Jews cry,‭ “‬Hosanna‭!  ‬
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord‭!” (‬John‭ ‬12:12-13‭)‬.‭  ‬Five days later Jesus will be crucified.‭  ‬But tonight
the mood is relaxed and festive.‭  ‬Jesus is attending a banquet given in His honor.‭  ‬John does not tell us where
in Bethany the banquet was held,‭ ‬but Matthew reports it took place in‭ “‬the home of a man known as Simon the Leper.‭”  ‬
Perhaps the banquet was given by Simon or his family to honor the One who had healed him of his leprosy.

The banquet in Bethany must have been a grand affair.‭  ‬In addition to Simon the leper,‭ ‬Jesus,‭ ‬and Lazarus,‭ ‬the guests
included Jesus‭’ ‬disciples and‭ “‬a large crowd of Jews‭” ‬who came to see Jesus and Lazarus.‭  ‬In a typical banquet style
adopted from the Greeks and Romans the guests reclined around the outside of a low table shaped like the capital letter
E with the middle bar removed.‭  ‬A large crowd of uninvited guests had also arrived,‭ ‬eager to catch a glimpse of Jesus
and Lazarus.‭  ‬They were pushing their way from the outer courtyard into the banquet hall,‭ ‬making it difficult for those
serving to reach the guests.‭  ‬Each guest reclined on mats or pillows with his feet angling away from the table.‭  ‬He leaned
on his left elbow while eating with his right hand.‭  ‬Martha and the other servers would bring the food to the inside of the
table to serve.

All the activity focused around the table facing toward the inside.‭  ‬I suspect no one even saw Mary slip around the
outside of the table toward Jesus‭’ ‬feet.‭  ‬Perhaps it took a few seconds before one of the guests paused,‭ ‬sniffed the air,‭ ‬
and looked around to see the source of the strong odor filling the room.‭  ‬There was Mary on her knees pouring nearly a
pint of pure nard on the feet of Jesus‭!

Nard,‭ ‬a fragrant oil,‭ ‬was normally applied in small quantities to the head.‭  ‬The apostle John carefully notes Mary used‭
“‬pure bard,‭ ‬an expensive perfume‭” (‬John‭ ‬12:3‭)‬.‭  ‬How expensive‭?  ‬Judas,‭ ‬the‭ “‬treasurer‭” ‬did a quick mental calculation.‭  ‬
A pint of pure bard sold for about three hundred denarii,‭ ‬a‭ “‬year’s wages‭” ‬for the average worker in Judea.

Judas feigned concern over Mary’s extravagance.‭  “‬Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor‭?”
(‬John‭ ‬12:5‭)‬.‭  ‬However,‭ ‬John records Judas’s real motive.‭  “‬He did not say this because he cared about the poor but
because he was a thief‭; ‬a keeper of the money bag,‭ ‬he used to help himself to what was put into it‭” (‬John‭ ‬12:6‭)‬.‭  ‬Judas
said all the right words…for all the wrong reasons‭!

But while John focuses on Judas and his motives,‭ ‬another gospel writer,‭ ‬Matthew,‭ ‬takes a critical look at the other
disciples.‭  ‬Evidently,‭ ‬they were swayed by Judas’s reasoning.‭  “‬When the disciples saw this‭ [‬perfume being poured out‭]‬,‭ ‬
they were indignant.‭  ‘‬Why this waste‭?’ ‬they asked‭” (‬Matthew‭ ‬26:8‭)‬.‭  ‬They were in the‭ “‬do good deeds for the kingdom‭” ‬
business,‭ ‬and Mary’s actions seemed like a big waste of money.‭  ‬They were out of balance.

What’s more important than serving God…doing good…helping others‭?  ‬The disciples knew the importance of serving
others and,‭ ‬with the exception of hypocritical Judas,‭ ‬they felt the perfume could have been better used for God’s
glory by being sold.‭  ‬I’m sure they were indignant as they protested loudly,‭ “‬How could this woman be so thoughtless in
her extravagance‭!”  ‬They missed the point…but Jesus was about to set them straight.

All heads snapped back to Jesus when He spoke…and their eyebrows arched upward when He directed His rebuke at‭ ‬
them‭!”  “’‬Leave her alone,‭’ ‬Jesus replied.‭  ‘‬It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial‭’”
(‬John‭ ‬12:7‭)‬.‭  ‬The gospel of Mark adds a few additional details to Jesus‭’ ‬explanation.‭  “‬She poured perfume on my body
beforehand to prepare or my burial‭” (‬Mark‭ ‬14:8‭)‬.

Jesus had been announcing His coming death for some time.‭  ‬Numerous times He explained to His disciples‭ “‬that
he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders,‭ ‬chief priests and teachers of the law,‭ ‬and
that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life‭” (‬Matthew‭ ‬16:21‭)‬.‭  ‬No one took Jesus‭’ ‬words
seriously…except Mary.

Mary must have heard Jesus‭’ ‬pronouncements of His coming death…taken His words to heart…understood He
was dying to purchase her salvation…and decided to show her love in one supreme act of worship.‭  ‬Perhaps the jar of
pure bard was her most valued possession.‭  ‬Very likely it was her most costly.‭  ‬She would show her understanding,‭ ‬her
acceptance,‭ ‬and her deep devotion by anointing her Lord before the time of His death and burial.‭  ‬This was not the
impetuous action of an emotional admirer or a frivolous demonstration of conspicuous wealth.‭  ‬It was instead a sincere
act of worship by a follower who knew…and believed…the words of her Lord.

Mary understood the necessity of balancing service with worship,‭ ‬but the disciples did not.‭  ‬Jesus‭’ ‬explanation must have
disturbed those who had heard,‭ ‬but not understood,‭ ‬His repeated reminders of His coming death.‭  “‬You will always have
the poor among you,‭ ‬but you will not always have me‭” (‬John‭ ‬12:8‭)‬.‭  ‬Opportunities to do good,‭ ‬to help others,‭ ‬to meet
needs would always exist.‭  ‬But opportunities to worship and serve Jesus while He was still in their midst were limited.‭  ‬The
disciples focused so much on serving others they missed out on the opportunity they had to worship and serve the Lord.

When Jesus was asked to summarize the entire Mosaic law,‭ ‬He could do it in two commandments.‭  “‬Love the Lord your
God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind‭” ‬and‭ “‬Love your neighbor as yourself‭” (‬Matthew‭ ‬22:
37-39‭)‬.‭  ‬The entire Mosaic law hung on two commands…and those commands had to be kept in balance.

Some individuals claim to love God while responding to others with anger,‭ ‬petty jealousy,‭ ‬insensitivity,‭ ‬or indifference.‭  ‬
They have all the right beliefs,‭ ‬meet at the appropriate times for worship,‭ ‬pray and read their Bibles
diligently…but ignore and mistreat those around them.‭  ‬The apostle John summarized it well,‭ “‬Let us not love with words
or tongue but with actions and truth‭” (‬I John‭ ‬3:18‭)‬.‭  ‬How we act must be consistent with what we claim to believe.

Yet other Christians get so wrapped up in serving others they forget to worship God.‭  ‬They get so involved in the needs
of the here-and-now that they lose sight of the God of eternity who expects-and deserves-their love and devotion.‭  ‬And
eventually their spiritual lives become barren and sterile.‭  ‬Much like the church of Ephesus described by the
apostle John in the book of Revelation,‭ ‬you get so busy with‭ “‬your deeds,‭ ‬your hard work,‭ ‬and your perseverance‭” ‬that
you wake up one day and realize‭ “ ‬you have forsaken your first love‭” (‬Revelation‭ ‬2:2,‭ ‬4‭)‬.‭   ‬Activity,‭ ‬even noble service
for the Lord,‭ ‬can become a mistress that draws our heart away from God.‭  ‬And if it does,‭ ‬our life will fly out of balance,‭ ‬
and we will lose our integrity.

Mary understood.‭  ‬Jesus was more important than her possessions,‭ ‬more important than her reputation,‭ ‬more important
than her service to others.‭  ‬He deserved her worship and devotion…and she put Him first.


We stand beside Mary and Martha waving good-bye as Jesus and His disciples depart from Bethany for the climb over
the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem.‭  ‬The scent of bard still lingers in the house long after Jesus is gone.‭  ‬The broken
pieces of the alabaster jar sit on a shelf in the corner,‭ ‬delicate reminders of their last banquet in Bethany with Jesus.‭  

As the two sisters reflect on the Master’s visits to their village and their home,‭ ‬they discuss the lessons they have
learned.‭  ‬And the word that comes to mind most often is‭ “‬balance.‭”  ‬Jesus taught them several important secrets
for living a balanced life in a very unbalanced world.

Martha smiles as she admits her‭ “‬workaholic‭” ‬nature often caused her to become distracted and frustrated…until Jesus
reminded her of her need to balance activity with time for God and His Word.

Mary’s eyes glisten and a single tear slides down her cheek as she remembers how upset she had been when Lazarus
died.‭  ‬She refused to leave the house and meet the Lord…until Jesus personally sent for her.‭  ‬He taught her to trust in
Him and to seek Him out when the stresses of life became too great to bear.

The sisters hug each other as they think about the events of the previous night.‭  ‬The disciples were so preoccupied with
doing good…watching the bottom line…harboring resources…that they forgot their first love.‭  ‬Martha served,‭ ‬but Mary
worshiped.‭  ‬And in doing so she revealed how much she understood that God’s plan for His Messiah led toward the

Just then a faint commotion could be heard in the distance.‭  ‬The crowd surging into Jerusalem chants something in
unison.‭  ‬Both sisters strain to hear the words.‭  “‬Hosanna‭!  ‬Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord‭!”  ‬
Thousands of pilgrims shouting their support for Jesus,‭ ‬Israel’s Messiah.‭  ‬But Mary‭ – ‬and Martha‭ – ‬know that at that
moment Jesus is riding toward a cross,‭ ‬not the earthly kingdom of David.‭  ‬His only crown would be a crown of thorns
piercing His forehead.

These two sisters maintained their balance in a week that took others from messianic expectations to desertion and
denial.‭  ‬But they kept their balance because the Master had taught them well.

It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other.‭  ‬The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.‭”       
(‬Ecclesiastes‭ ‬7:18‭)


CHARACTER COUNTS,‭ ‬by Charles H.‭ ‬Dyer,‭ ‬Copyright‭ ‬2010,‭ ‬Moody Publishers.