We are now in Holy Week. Toward the end of his life, Mary, sister of Martha, anointed Jesus’ feet. Here is her story.
My mother’s sister, Ned, was eleven years older than she. Aunt Ned was widowed for more than thirty years and never had any children of her own. My brothers and I, along with our cousin, satisfied some of her longing for children of her own. She crocheted doll clothes for me and made me a wonderful stuffed doll which could dance with me when I slipped the elastic bands attached to his shoes to my own feet. Not a birthday passed that I did not get a card from her. She always signed it with, “I love you” or “Lovingly, Aunt Ned.”
Many, many people received handwritten notes from her. She might include a funny story she found somewhere or an inspirational poem which she either wrote herself or cut from a magazine. As she got older, her eyesight began to fail and her hands could no longer be trusted to write legibly. When Aunt Ned moved into a health-care facility sixty miles away, my mother helped her continue with her correspondence to friends and family who lived back home. Since her own minister was no longer available, I contacted her former minister who lived in her new town. When I asked him to visit her in the nursing facility, he replied, “Your aunt is very special to me. I continue to receive notes from her. She has the gift of appreciation and affirmation.”
On the evening of the day of Aunt Ned’s funeral, I was sitting on the porch, admiring the potted plant which my mother had sent home with me from the mortuary. Sister Mary gently touched my hand and introduced herself as Martha’s sister.
“Hello, Sister Mary. What would you have me do to honor your legacy?”
She responded, “Oh my! No one’s ever asked that of me before. My sister, Martha, is the one who usually gets asked that kind of information. I’m not sure I have anything to offer which would be helpful to you.
“Martha certainly saw me as household help. She loved me dearly. I do not mean to imply otherwise. It’s just that she seemed larger than life to me—so accomplished. I, on the other hand, was only adequate in bread baking and mending. She was in charge in our home, making sure that everyone had plenty to eat. She handled all the affairs at Lazarus’ death. She watched for Jesus even while overseeing the caring for all the mourners. All I could do was cry and try to do whatever insignificant tasks she gave me.
“When Jesus came to our house, Martha made sure to prepare all his favorite foods: figs, bread dipped in fragrant olive oil, goat cheese, and dates. He knew how much she loved him from the many ways she pleasured his palate.
“What I could do was listen to him—which he seemed to like. I knew I should not have sat as one of his students because everyone knew that only males could study with rabbis. But Jesus did not find my presence a problem and even encouraged me in my learning. I sat and soaked up the truth and love in his words. I hardly said anything myself.
“Because I was so meek in his presence, I never knew if Jesus understood how much I loved him. I lay awake at night trying to think of something to give him—something as special as Martha’s fig cakes.
“During that last visit—even though we did not know at that time that is was Jesus’ last visit—I looked at him with love in my eyes. I tried to absorb all his features: his face, his shoulders, his hands, and his feet. When I looked at his feet, I remembered sitting at those blessed feet while I listened to him talk (even though Martha had asked Jesus to chastise me and send me into the kitchen.)
“I peered intently at his road-weary feet and thought, “I can massage his feet! I can wash the grime off and rub perfume on his cracked skin!” And so I did.
“I used the best, most lavish scented oils I had. I used the oil generously, never thinking of the extravagance of the perfume. Then I unbound my hair to show my devotion to this man. I dried his feet with my hair. From his response of gratitude, I knew deep within my soul that Jesus knew how much I loved him.
“So…what can you do to carry on my legacy?
“Follow what you know to be important even when you are going against the rules of your culture. I knew that I was supposed to help Martha prepare the food and serve all our hungry guests but I could not bear to be away from Jesus and his teaching. Thank heaven Martha’s passion was hospitality. Otherwise we would never have eaten!
“I admit that it is not easy committing yourself to such learning, such devotion as I had.
“People thought I was lazy or a dreamer. Some thought I should have given the money which was spent on the perfume to help others. They wanted me to feel guilty for my act of love and devotion. All those other people did not realize that I was soaking up honey for my soul.
“Pay attention to what your soul is hungry for. Feed it—no matter what or who tries to prevent nurturing your God-centeredness.
“Focus on ways to drench people with extravagant love. For some reason, we expect those we love to know that we love them. We do not tell them. We do not do special things—only for them. But that expression of love is essential for us both, the lover and the loved.
“I am grateful that I was able to anoint Jesus’ feet before his agonizing death. I would have been tormented with wondering if he had known how much I loved him. Because I risked showing him, even to the point of being criticized for my actions, I know that he knew. He knew my love for him.
“Tell those you love. Show those you love the depth of your affection, commitment, and devotion to them. You never know when you’ll see them for the last time.
“I encourage you to take your love and devotion one step further. Move beyond thinking only about people in your life. I ask you to consider how you will demonstrate to Jesus the depth of your love for him. Oh, I know, he already knows what is in your heart. How will you show him?
“Whose feet will you anoint? You remember, he said that when we do acts of love and kindness to others, we are doing them to him.
Ponder how you’ll show Jesus how much you love him. Then do it!”
“Amen and Amen, gentle sister! Thank you.” Then I was alone, left to think about whose feet I needed to wash.
From Conversations on the Porch, available at Ten Thousand Villages on Main Street in Greenville, Fiction Addiction, and on line retailers.