Gazing into the Face of Yeshua Part 2Last week we began to look at the passage in Luke 10:38-42, in which Yeshua tells us the “one thing” that is really necessary in life, especially in the life of a believer.
He defends Mary (actually, her name was Miriam in Hebrew) for sitting at His feet and listening to His teaching rather than helping her sister Martha prepare a meal.
It’s interesting to note that at the time this incident occurred in the gospels, Yeshua was traveling all over Israel with a group of probably more than 80 individuals whom He was discipling. So it’s possible that at the point that Martha asks Yeshua to tell Mary to come help her, there were as many as 80 guests expected for lunch!
I say this in order to deflect the thought that maybe Martha’s request was based in sibling rivalry or jealousy. Martha probably really needed the help to get that meal served.
I don’t know about you, but I need to really let this point sink in. I wear multiple “hats” of responsibility in my life: wife, mother, household manager, bookkeeper in my husband’s business—as well as Messianic Vision prayer coordinator. I have a lot of stuff to do each day. And a lot of the time other people are relying on me to get my work done so they can do theirs.
And yes, some of the work I do is really “for the Lord,” it really is.
But what I hear Him saying in this passage from Luke is that this work I am doing is really not the most important thing—not even the “necessary” thing.
What was Mary doing that Yeshua was commending? To answer that, let’s look at Mary herself for a moment.
Who was she? Her name was not really “Mary.” That’s just the anglicized version of her name in Hebrew—Miriam. Many Jewish girls in Yeshua’s day were named Miriam, because that was the name of Moses’ sister, one of the honored women of the Old Covenant scriptures.
Remember that it was Miriam who told Pharaoh’s daughter that she could get a nurse for the baby when Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses in the Nile. And during the exodus from Egypt it was Miriam who prophesied, as she led the women with tambourines in dance.
But Miriam was by no means perfect. At one point she is disciplined by God for pride and for rebelling against Moses’ authority.)
If you do some research on the name “Miriam,” you’ll probably find it described as coming from a Hebrew word that means “bitterness” or “rebellion.” The root of that Hebrew word can further be defined as “to be or to make bitter or unpleasant, to rebel or resist, to provoke, to be disobedient.”
Wow—who would name their daughter that? Who would want to hang such a name on a sweet little baby girl? And why would generations of parents after the time of the Exodus keep on naming their girls “Miriam”?
I did a little more digging on the subject and found in Tyndale House’s New Bible Dictionary that the name Miriam may have been derived originally from an Egyptian name “Marye”, which in the language of Egypt meant “beloved.”
That begins to make more sense to me. It turns out that this name is also related to the word “myrrh,” which is a bitter, but sweet smelling liquid.
Myrrh was used in ancient times to prepare decaying bodies for burial, as well as for healing certain maladies. It was also used as a cosmetic and as an enticing fragrance in the context of romance.
Maybe we could say, then, that Miriam, this “Mary” we see in scripture, was like all of us, capable of bitterness and rebellion, but also capable of great sweetness of love.
The particular Mary we see in Luke 10 is sometimes referred to as “Mary of Bethany.” Bethany was the village where she lived. It was located about 2 miles outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem.
The name “Bethany” is also interesting. It means “house of dates.” Dates grow on certain kinds of palm trees, and they were very important in Yeshua’s time. They were boiled down into a kind of syrup used as a sweetner instead of sugar. Here again is another reference to sweetness in connection with this Mary.
Last week when we left the scene in Bethany, we were noting that Mary was acting like she was one of the disciples, rather than as part of the “host team” serving the guests.
Acting like one of the disciples? That’s exactly what Mary was doing.
Remember what the passage in Luke said? It described her as “sitting at the feet” of Yeshua. In the culture of Israel at the time of the New Testament a disciple was described as one who “sat at the feet of” his rabbi.
This is the way Paul describes himself with respect to Rabbi Gamaliel in Acts 22:3. It simply means that the disciple has committed himself to a position of inner humility in order to absorb all that the rabbi is presenting—actually much more than merely the words from the rabbi’s mouth.
So to sit at the feet of a famous rabbi like Yeshua is to do more than just physically position oneself on the floor. It is to submit to him in a focused manner in order to copy his lifestyle through observation and practice—through imitation.
Mary of Bethany could not travel with or live with Yeshua on the road like His male disciples could. But she could sit near Him when He came to her house and drink in all that He was saying and doing—His gestures, His manner of dealing with servants, with disciples, with detractors.
Mary could study Him. He Himself was the message, the logos, not just the words He spoke.
And in the scene we see in Luke 10, Mary is simply lingering long in His presence—not asking Him for a favor or a miracle or a healing.
Next week we will look deeper into what Mary was doing and see from scripture why Yeshua said this is the “one thing” necessary.