By Carolyn Custis James
This article is part of the series Pursuing Partnership: Men and Women in Ministry.
The Blessed Alliance
The Return of the EZER
In 2003, Sister Grace Remington’s drawing of Eve and Jesus’ mother Mary went viral. She portrays Eve, her head down in remorse, the serpent coiled around her leg. In one hand she clutches the forbidden fruit; the other hand reaches for Mary. A very pregnant Mary holds Eve’s hand against her swollen belly and with her other hand comforts Eve. Mary’s foot is crushing the serpent’s head.
It is hard to imagine two ezers less alike or more profoundly connected. Eve, who chose to reject God’s command and say “Yes” to the serpent. Mary who, selflessly and at serious risk to herself, answered “Yes” to God’s call.
“I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”
But in a way, the portrayal of Eve and Mary—beautifully done as it is—remains incomplete. Another ezer will take the story further. Her name is Mary of Bethany. Her third recorded encounter with Rabbi Jesus will complete the story that the first two ezers begin.
If ever there was a moment in history when it was “not good for the man to be alone,” that moment came at a feast in Bethany given in Jesus’ honor following his raising of Lazarus from the dead. The man in question is Jesus himself.
It is an overwhelmingly dark time for Jesus. His isolation and dread defy imagination. A short distance away, his enemies are plotting his execution. Yet even closer—reclining at the table with him are Jesus closest male disciples. They’ve heard Jesus openly explain that “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Matthew 16:21)
But this is not their vision of a Messiah, and they will have none of it. “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (vs 22). Peter’s rebuke when Jesus said those things creates a glaring contrast with how Mary will respond.
Operation Alabaster Jar
One of the most if not the most powerful and profound ezer moments happens in Mary of Bethany’s third recorded encounter with Rabbi Jesus. This is when she anoints him with nard in the middle that feast. Others who were present at the feast would immediately recognize the familiar aroma of nard that filled the room. Nard is what the ancients used to pour on a corpse.
Jesus’ male disciples were indignant (Matthew 26:8). Judas Iscariot was outspoken, but disingenuous. “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”
Jesus’ rebuke of his disciples was swift.
“Leave her alone! It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” (John 12:7-8).
Jesus not only defended her actions, he explained them, and offered high praise for her actions proclaimed the gospel.
“She has done a beautiful thing to me. . . . When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial” adding, “Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her” (Matthew 26:10b, 11-13, emphasis added).
To understand Mary’s final encounter with Jesus we need her other two encounters. Mary has been his student. She sat at the feet of Rabbi Jesus. She heard him speak of the terrible events that awaited him. Just like everyone else, she doubtless struggled with his words. In the shattering death of her brother and her disappointment with Jesus, he led her to a deeper level of faith.
“She learned that no matter what happened, how dark things looked, or how depressed she felt, the soundest and safest course of action was to trust him.”
She also learned that Jesus’ death wasn’t the end of the story, for she now knew that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. What Mary learned from listening and from her own dark night of the soul, equipped this ezer to stand with him in the heat of battle. She alone affirmed his mission and encouraged him to say “Yes” to the cross. And for one exquisite moments in time, Jesus experienced the blessings of the Blessed Alliance. He was not alone.
Can there be a more holy or a more powerfully instructive moment to underscore the fact that men and women need each other? All the what if’s expose the bankruptcy of a world where ezers are told to hold back and the enormity of what gets lost when ezers comply. Their ministries, contributions, and gifts may help in restricted spheres, but the whole church can get along fine without them.
What if Mary had remained on the sidelines? What if instead of acting, she had prayed quietly that one of the men would see the need and respond? What if her culture’s traditions regarding women convinced her that this wasn’t her responsibility? What would Jesus have missed?
If Jesus needed and benefitted from the ministry of an ezer, then who of us can afford to go it alone. How is our mission hampered if we do?
True ezers say “Yes!” to God’s call.
 Carolyn Custis James, When Life and Beliefs Collide: How Knowing God Makes a Difference, (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2001), 164.
This article is submitted by Wendy Wilson of Missio Nexus and of Women’s Development Track. Women’s Development Track is a Missio Nexus member. Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.