Jesus’ Life and Ministry
At Bethany, in the House of Simon
WHEN Jesus leaves Jericho, he heads for Bethany. The trip takes most of the day, since it is a climb over difficult terrain of some 12 miles [19 km]. Jericho is about 820 feet [250 m] below sea level, and Bethany is some 2,500 feet [760 m] above sea level. Bethany, you may recall, is the home of Lazarus and his sisters. The little village is about two miles [3 km] from Jerusalem, being located on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives.
Many have already arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover. They have come early to cleanse themselves ceremonially. Perhaps they have touched a dead body or done something else that makes them unclean. So they follow the designated procedures to cleanse themselves in order to celebrate the Passover acceptably. As these early arrivers gather at the temple, many speculate about whether Jesus will come to the Passover.
Jerusalem is a hotbed of controversy regarding Jesus. It is common knowledge that the religious leaders want to seize him to put him to death. In fact, they have given orders that if anyone learns his whereabouts, they are to report it to them. Three times in recent months—at the Festival of Tabernacles, at the Festival of Dedication, and after he resurrected Lazarus—these leaders have tried to kill him. So, the people wonder, will Jesus expose himself yet another time? “What is your opinion?” they ask one another. “That he will not come to the festival at all?”
In the meantime, Jesus arrives at Bethany six days before the Passover, which falls on Nisan 14 according to the Jewish calendar. Jesus reaches Bethany sometime Friday evening, which is at the beginning of Nisan 8. He could not have made the trip to Bethany on Saturday because travel on the Sabbath—from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday—is restricted by Jewish law. Jesus probably goes to the home of Lazarus, as he has done before, and spends Friday night there.
However, another resident of Bethany invites Jesus and his companions for an evening meal Saturday evening. The man is Simon, a former leper, who earlier had perhaps been healed by Jesus. Lazarus is among those reclining at the table with Jesus. In keeping with her industrious character, Martha is ministering to the guests. But, typically, Mary is attentive to Jesus, this time in a way that stirs controversy.
Mary opens an alabaster case, or small flask, that holds about a pound [0.5 kg] of perfumed oil, “genuine nard.” This is very precious. Indeed, its value is equivalent to about a year’s wages! When Mary pours the oil on Jesus’ head and on his feet and wipes his feet with her hair, the aromatic scent fills the whole house.
The disciples are angry and ask: “Why this waste?” Then Judas Iscariot says: “Why was it this perfumed oil was not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor people?” But Judas is not really concerned about the poor, for he has been stealing from the money box kept by the disciples.
Jesus comes to Mary’s defense. “Let her alone,” he commands. “Why do you try to make trouble for her? She did a fine deed toward me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want to you can always do them good, but me you do not have always. She did what she could; she undertook beforehand to put perfumed oil on my body in view of the burial. Truly I say to you, Wherever the good news is preached in all the world, what this woman did shall also be told as a remembrance of her.”
Jesus has been in Bethany now more than 24 hours, and word of his presence has spread about. Therefore, many come to Simon’s house to see Jesus, but they also come to see Lazarus. So the chief priests take counsel to kill not only Jesus but Lazarus too. This is because many people are putting faith in Jesus because of seeing alive the one whom he raised from the dead! Truly, how wicked these religious leaders are! John 11:55–12:11; Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Acts 1:12.
◆ When does Jesus arrive in Bethany, and where does he likely spend the Sabbath?
◆ What discussion is going on at the temple, and why?
◆ What act of Mary stirs controversy, and how does Jesus defend her?
◆What illustrates the great wickedness of the chief priests?