Chapter 11 Bethany

Bethany was just two miles east of Jerusalem if you go the direct route over the Mount of Olives (John 11:18). Simon of Bethany had been a rich merchant, and was well known in the city, but he had contracted leprosy. I met him when he was wandering around Judea crying out "Unclean, unclean" so people could keep away from him. I touched him and he was healed, but he would be in quarantine until he got clearance from the priests in Jerusalem (as in Luke 17:13 & Leviticus 14:1-20). He begged me to go to his home in Bethany to meet his three children, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. They were very grateful, and they often welcomed me to their home (Luke 10:38-39).

Lazarus had taken over the trading business from his father. He had done very well and been elected to the sanhedrin. He had thought of joining my disciples on a preaching tour, but he decided the cost was too great (Luke 18:18-24?). When I was up in Galilee a runner came with a message from the two sisters in Bethany saying that their brother was very ill. I loved the young man, and I was tempted to leave at once and pray for him, but the Spirit held me back, and I stayed on two more days (John 11:1-6). By then Lazarus had died (John 11:11,14).

I arrived on the fourth day since he had been buried in the family tomb. Martha who was impatiently waiting for me outside the village, said "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him." I told her Lazarus would rise again, and she said "I know that he will rise again on the last day" (John 11:17-24). She left me and went back into the village to call her sister. Mary knelt at my feet and reproached me with the same words, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." I saw her sobbing, and it so moved me that I also burst into tears (John 11:28-35).

A crowd of mourners had gathered, making all sorts of unhelpful suggestions. When we came to the tomb, I told them to remove the stone that sealed it. Martha, the practical woman as always, said the stench of death would be unbearable, but I insisted and began with a prayer thanking my Father that he had already heard me. Then I shouted into the tomb "Lazarus, come out!" He staggered to the entrance with his hands and feet still wrapped in grave cloths, and his face covered with a towel. I told them to "unbind him and let him go" (John 11:38-44).

The news of what had happened got to the Pharisee theologians and they called an emergency meeting of the Sanhedrin to decide what should be done about this. "If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation." My disciples heard that the high priest Caiphas had concluded the proceedings with an astonishing prophecy. "You do not understand that it is better to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed" (John 11:45-51). As planning for my arrest began in earnest, the twelve apostles and I moved away to a town called Ephraim in the hill country above Jericho. But people were already arriving for Passover, and the chief priests and Pharisees had spies out with orders to arrest me as soon as I appeared (John 11:54-57).

I decided to enter the city on the Sunday before Passover with the large number of people coming up the road from Jericho. And I told two of my disciples to go into Bethany and bring the young donkey from Simon's house in Bethany. I had seen it born, and often patted it when I was there, but it was still a wild unbroken colt. The disciples decided it would be easier if its mother accompanied it (Matthew 21:1-5). "Why did I want to ride a donkey?" I explained that if a king came into a city riding a horse, it meant war. You rode a donkey on a leisurely peace mission. As the prophet had said, I was the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 8:6).

The colt let me ride on its back, and never bucked once though crowds were waving palms and it had to step over branches broken off from trees while the crowd shouted "Hosanna to the son of David! Hosanna in the highest heaven." The triumphal procession wound slowly round the Mount of Olives and into the city. I went straight into the temple, and found that although I had cleared out all the merchants' stalls on a previous occasion (John 2:13-16), things were even worse now. So I rode back to Bethany, rewarded the donkey, ate with the family, and prayed about the need to clear the temple again the next day (Mark 11:11).

This time I did not even need to use a whip of cords (John 2:15). I just called for silence, reminded them of Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the first temple (1 Kings 8:41-43), and quoted from the prophets "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations" (Isaiah 56:7) "but you have made it a den of robbers (Jeremiah 7:11). Then I told them to clear the temple area for its proper purpose. I turned over some tables and chairs and, with the crowd cheering, they all packed up and moved out in a hurry (Mark 11:18).

I then used the space for me and the disciples to begin teaching the crowds who gathered every day. The chief priest and scribes were furious, and wanted to kill me right then, but the people were spellbound and listened to me attentively (Luke 21:37-38). There was very intensive discussion as the various groups of religious leaders tried to trap me into something they could use to condemn me (Mark 12:13, 18, 28, 35). And each night I went back to Bethany for the evening meal and dropped exhausted into bed (Mark 11:18-19).

The Wednesday evening there was special dinner in my honor (John 12:1, 2. As in John 1:29, 35, 43 the "next day" of John 12:12 does not indicate a time sequence - Jesus had entered on Palm Sunday three days before). Lazarus was there after being so recently brought back from three days in the grave (John 11:43). His father Simon, after being healed from leprosy, was finally cleared by the priests to come back home (Matthew 26:6). Martha as usual had laid on a wonderful feast for the occasion (Luke 10:38-41, John 12:2). My disciples were enjoying the good food and the wine which had been kept untouched since the time Simon was declared a leper. I too felt grateful that the Holy Spirit had sustained me throughout the public grilling by the religious authorities.

The one person who could not enter into the spirit of the evening was Mary. Her father was healed from leprosy, and her brother had been raised from the dead, but she knew I would soon be crucified. As was the custom, she had a pound of nard (an expensive ointment from India), in an alabaster jar, ready for her wedding day. She broke the jar, anointed my feet and wiped them with her hair. The whole house was filled with the exquisite scent (John 12:3). Judas was shocked, and said the perfume was the equivalent of a whole year's wages (John 12:3-5). The disciples scolded her and said the nard should have been sold and the money given to the poor (Mark 14:3-5). But I said "Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial." Then I added "Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her" (Mark 14:6-9). N.B. This still happens through the work of the Bible Society and the Wycliffe Bible Translators because Mark's Gospel is usually the first to be translated into any language).

Judas was so angry that he left the party, and hurried in to Jerusalem that night to tell the chief priests he was willing to betray me (Mark 14:10-11). They agreed to pay him in silver pieces, and he would look for the first opportunity when no crowd would be around and let them know.

The next morning I taught in the temple courts, as I had done the previous three days. By then the theologians had given up trying to make a fool of me as they could see the crowd thought they were the fools. So I told the parables of the foolish man at the wedding banquet (Matthew 22:1-14), the wise and foolish wedding attendants (Matthew 25:1-13) and the wise and foolish servants (Matthew 25:14-30). I also repeated for them what I had explained to the twelve about the final destruction of the temple and the city (see the previous chapter). It had been a long day, but the Day of Preparation that began at sunset would be even longer.

Chapter 12 .....