One sister is working away in the kitchen.
The brother is lounging at the table with the guest of honor.
The other sister brings in an extravagant gift.
Each is probably not thinking very kind things of the others. Why don’t they see the importance of what I am doing? Why aren’t they contributing to the effort I am making?
You might ask, what effort are Mary and Lazarus making? Aren’t they just acting frivolously? Let’s look at each of them, including Martha, from a different perspective.
Martha. She is working hard to prepare a meal for her dear friend, Jesus. She’s prepping, chopping, baking, boiling, and getting ready to serve. Throughout the ministry of Jesus, he eat his meals with his friends, followers, and anyone else who will sit down with him. He ministers to them during the meal, but he does not prepare the meal. Someone has to be doing that work to allow the ministry of the table to exist. Without the efforts of people like Martha, their would be no meals over which to have fellowship and teaching. Martha’s is a ministry of the table.
Lazarus. Yep, he’s lounging, soaking up the presence of Jesus. But he is doing something else too. He is present for Jesus. He is not asking anything of him. He is with him. Lazarus probably does not understand the importance of what he is doing, because he probably does not know that the time of Jesus’ death is looming, but his presence is important all the same. Lazarus’ is a ministry of presence.
Mary. Mary brings in really expensive perfume and anoints the feet of Jesus. She then wipes them with her hair. This is an intimate moment involving Mary and her friend, Jesus. Maybe she does not know why she is doing what she is doing, but it is still ministry. She is ministering to Jesus. Mary’s is a ministry of healing and anointing.
Each of these ministries is important in the work of the church today. We have people among us who serve in these rolls all the time. I’ll just give one example of each, but there are many more that I am sure you can think of.
What do we have after the service today? We have a brunch that the family ministries team has been work hard to put on. Theirs is a ministry of the table.
Our lay pastoral visitors go out and make sure that those who are ill or home bound know that they are not forgotten, and that they are loved. Theirs is a ministry of presence.
The healing prayer team offers prayer and anointing for anyone who feels the need of it. Theirs is a ministry of healing and anointing.
I want to look a little closer at the anointing of Jesus by Mary. Our passage tells us that the timing of this story is within the week before Jesus’ death. He is enjoying a meal with friends, knowing that it will be one of his last. His time is quickly approaching. We are not told what he is feeling, but I can imagine he might have felt stress, fear, uncertainty in his own ministry- wondering if he had done enough, wondering what he would be leaving undone, and hoping that he had taught his followers enough to carry on with his message of love. Maybe he was feeling lonely, knowing what he did about what was to come.
Mary entered into this time with perfume, kneels down, and anoints his feet. The fragrance of the perfume fills the house. Anointing is usually used for the sick, the dying, and the dead. Jesus has been alluding to his own death for some time, and while is is not ill, is is, in a sense, dying.
Scent is a powerful memory trigger. With the fragrant perfume, Mary is creating a memory for them all and it is filled with fragrance. The next time Jesus was to be anointed would be after his death. When the oil was opened to anoint his body, it would trigger a memory in any who had been at the home of Lazarus. It would remind them of friendship, stories, life, and ministry. It would remind them of the life of Jesus, before the death of Jesus. It would be an memory of hope and of love, in a time of intense grief.
Let’s experience some scents. I have here some oils and a couple of lotions.
Even those in the forefront of ministering to others need to be ministered to. Martha, Lazarus, and Mary take on that roll, as Jesus’ friends, and minister to him in the ways that they each saw as most important. Maybe they were upset with the others for not seeing why their own role was important, or maybe they recognized that each was doing what they could. They were not trying to step on each other’s toes, they were ministering in their own unique way. When we are ministering in a setting such as a church, where there are different ministries going on all the time, there are bound to be conflicts of time, space, and who knows what else. Be patient with each other. Like Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, each is doing their best to exercise the gifts we have been given for the benefit of those around us.
We all have gifts to give, and we all, at times, need to be ministered to. Some days each of us is the minister and it is important to look into ourselves and figure out where our gifts lie.
Are you like Martha, thriving in the kitchen, preparing sustenance for those you love?
Are you like Lazarus, capable of being still and spending quality time with others?
Are you like Mary, wanting to bring a healing touch to others, using your hands and hearts?
No matter what your gift is and how you choose to minister to others, it is an important gift, that maybe, only you can give. Be generous with your ministry, but do not forget, but being ministered to allows other to be generous with their own gifts and will allow you a time of respite, recovery, and healing from your own burdens and ministries.