John’s Gospel (12:1-8) tells us that six days before the Passover, Jesus returned to Bethany where his friend Lazarus lived along with his sisters Mary and Martha. A party was given in his honor, probably on Saturday night after the conclusion of the Sabbath. Although many have assumed that this happened at the home of Lazarus, some have suggested that it actually was held at the home of Simon, a man from Bethany who had been cured of leprosy by Jesus. Lazarus is still an honored guest, while Martha helps with the serving and Mary, who ignored the taboos of her society, sat at Jesus’ feet to learn as a disciple would.
Mary does not let things end there. Not only does she sit at Jesus’ feet as a disciple, but she violates the norms of the day by anointing Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume and wiping his feet with her hair.
The ointment was very expensive. Its cost represents about a year’s wages. One commentator suggests that this might have been purchased with the money set aside for Mary’s dowry. Thus this would have been not only an economic but a personal sacrifice on her part.
Mary’s actions did not border on the scandalous; they were forbidden. A woman did not let down her hair in public and a woman of respectable family did not touch the feet of a man! Certainly there were many in the assembly who murmured, “Doesn’t she know her place?”
The truth, of course, is that Mary did know her place. She claimed her place as a full follower of Christ, not a second class citizen. This is not to deny the importance of Martha’s role. She did what she felt she should do and Mary did what she felt compelled to do. Mary’s example shows us, however, that women had been given a choice as citizens of God’s Kingdom and Mary had exercised her choice by showing honor and devotion to the Savior who was on the way to the Cross. A new day had come!