A few weeks ago, I encouraged you to consider that every Christian is defined as a theologian, “someone engaged in the study or science of God.” Mary of Bethany is one theologian in Scripture who inspires me. When we look at her whole story—not just one little piece—we can see how theology looks in a Christian’s life.
First, we see Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet– first-century language that describes a rabbinical student. Against cultural pressures for Mary to remain within the “proper” sphere for women, Jesus defended her choice to sit at his feet and learn.
And Jesus who had come to “show us the Father” and always talked theology, was teaching the same deep theology to Mary that he taught the men. Her story sends a message to us that making time and effort to know God deeply is every man or woman’s first priority. This is a striking image of theological training.
But theology moves beyond the classroom and into real life when Jesus doesn’t come in time to save Mary’s brother from dying. Now, in her grief and disappointment, Mary must grapple with what she’d learned about Jesus and how it meshed with the deep pain of what was happening now.
This is where Mary’s understanding of Jesus; i.e.…. her theology; deepens. She discovers Jesus is Lord of life and death and can be trusted, no matter how bad things get. This too is a picture of theology; theology is both learning and wrestling.
Finally, we see her anoint Jesus. This was more than just a radical act of affection and gratitude. Mary’s actions here show us that you don’t just learn theology—you live it. As the cross loomed for Jesus, Mary boldly (and one might add, outrageously) anointed him for his burial.
Far from conceding victory to Jesus’ enemies, Mary was affirming Jesus’ mission and standing with him as he faced the battle ahead. Mary was living her theology—believing what Jesus had taught her and trusting him in this dark hour. Her theology made a difference to her and to Jesus who said, “She has done a beautiful thing to me.”
Since we are all theologians, how do we become better theologians? Certainly, we should avail ourselves of opportunities to learn from scholars and professional theologians through books, classes, or seminary, for they can profoundly enrich the depth of our intellectual and spiritual understanding.
But this is no substitute for what we can do on our own. As we read and study Scripture, the most important question we can as, and one that will yield fresh insights about God, is, “What does this tell me about God?” The Bible is the revelation of God. Then we ask, “How does God want me to live as a result of this knowledge?”
We can’t afford not to become better theologians. We need to pursue a robust theology for ourselves. No matter how good and helpful the theology of others may be—the theology we turn to when we’re in trouble is our own.