St. Mary of Bethany — She Has Chosen the Better Part

“There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” —Luke 10:42

Alessandro Allori, “Christ at the House of Mary and Martha,” 1605
Alessandro Allori, “Christ at the House of Mary and Martha,” 1605 (photo: Public Domain)

Keeping the various Marys of the Bible straight can be a challenge. For centuries, St. Mary of Bethany was considered by many to be the same as Mary Magdalene. Deeper study and consideration have prompted most now to consider them to be two separate women.

Mary of Bethany was the sister of Martha and Lazarus of the town of Bethany, just a few miles away from Jerusalem. At some point, Jesus had developed a special friendship with these three siblings and had gone to their house for a visit. During the visit, Mary became engrossed in all Jesus had to say. She sat at his feet, listening attentively, apparently oblivious to her sister, Martha, who scurried about with serving duties. The frustrated Martha complained to Jesus that Mary was not being helpful. Profoundly, Jesus replied that it was Mary who had made the better choice — that spiritual matters have a much higher priority than household chores.

Later on, Mary’s brother Lazarus became deathly ill. Mary and her sister sent word to Jesus to let him know of Lazarus’s condition, hoping for a visit. Jesus did go to Bethany; however, he delayed the visit by two days, and by the time he arrived, Mary’s brother had been dead for four days.

When Mary saw Jesus, she sorrowfully spoke of her disappointment, claiming that if he had been there, Lazarus could have been saved. Jesus then stunned Mary and her sister by going to the dead body of Lazarus, praying fervently to God, and then commanding the deceased man to rise. Mary’s confidence in Jesus surely soared as she witnessed her brother return to the living — still wrapped in his burial cloths!

According to the Gospel of John, not long after Lazarus was raised from the dead, Jesus was again in Bethany. This time, Mary anointed Jesus’s feet with oil and then dried them with her hair. The Gospels of Matthew and Mark present similar stories, which many sources consider to be based on the same incident. However, the sinful woman in Luke’s seventh chapter who bathed Jesus’ feet with tears is considered to be a different person.


A Week of Bible Journaling with St. Mary of Bethany

St. Mary of Bethany shares July 29 as a feast with her sister Martha, and brother Lazarus. St. Mary of Bethany’s desire to let all chores wait in order to sit with Jesus might prompt people doing a Bible Study or a spiritual enrichment class to turn to her as a patron. Spending a week with St. Mary of Bethany by reading the passages below can help you to know this good woman better. Take in each passage at a slow and deliberate pace, pray about the words, and jot down some ideas and thoughts. How might St. Mary of Bethany influence your spiritual journey?

  • Day 1) Luke 10:38–42
  • Day 2) John 11:1–16
  • Day 3) John 11:17–27
  • Day 4) John 11:28–37
  • Day 5) John 11:38–45
  • Day 6) John 12:1–8
  • Day 7) Matthew 26:6–13