The little village of Bethany rests on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. According to the Temple Scroll, there were 3 cities for the care of the sick and poor located east of the Temple City. Bethany was thought to be one of these cities. It lay about 2 miles east of Jerusalem and was the home of Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus.
The Bible doesn’t tell us a lot about Mary and Martha. In fact they are mentioned directly by name only three times in Scripture. (Luke 10:38-42, John 11:1-44, and John 12:1-11) But Jesus and His disciples spent a lot of time in Bethany. And from these brief accounts, a fascinating picture develops of the friendship and love that passed between Mary, Martha, Lazarus and Jesus.
The first mention of Mary and Martha’s house (Luke 10:38-42) shows us a scene of hospitality. Jesus enters into the village and Martha welcomed Him into their house and made Him feel at home. The story goes that Martha was pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen to feed her guests but Mary took her place at Jesus’ feet and listened intently to every word He said. Soon Martha interrupted the talk and asked Jesus if He didn’t care that Mary had abandoned her duties to help Martha serve all the company. The sweet kind answer from Jesus suggested that Mary had chosen the best course and it won’t be taken from her.
We next see Mary and Martha (John 11:1-44) at the tragic sickness and death of their brother Lazarus. Jesus and His disciples were not close by and Lazarus was very sick. Jesus stays away for two days after He received the word that His friend Lazarus was sick. When Jesus finally got there, Lazarus had already been dead and in the tomb four days.
Martha heard Jesus was coming and went out to meet Him while Mary stayed in the house. With sorrow she told Jesus that if He had been there Lazarus wouldn’t have died. Jesus told Martha that Lazarus would be raised up but she thought He meant in the Resurrection. Jesus revels Himself as the Messiah and told her that anyone believing in Him would live forever. Martha then went to tell Mary that Jesus was asking for her. Mary came to where Jesus was and fell at his feet, weeping. Jesus wept also and went to the tomb where Lazarus lay. Practical Martha reminded Jesus that Lazarus already was decaying and would stink. But Jesus answered, ” Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” (John 11:40 – Message Bible)
And with that he requested that the stone be rolled away. Jesus raised His eyes to heaven and prayed, and then spoke with a load voice, “Lazarus come forth.” Lazarus appeared from the tomb and Jesus told those near to unwrap the grave-clothes and let him loose.
The final time we read about Mary and Martha is in John 12:1-11. This account has always touched my heart at the love and devotion shown by Mary towards Jesus. It took place just six days before the Passover where Jesus’ cruel death would take place. Martha was again in the kitchen and was busy serving. Many feel like this could have been a celebration supper for the risen Lazarus.
Mary separated herself from the crowd and brought an alabaster box filled with precious ointment worth about a years wages, and began to anoint the feet of Jesus. Mary must have uncovered her hair and began to wipe Jesus’ feet. The whole house was permeated with the sweet odor of the costly ointment.
Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ disciples, was not happy with this sacrifice and asked why the ointment wasn’t sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus had an answer for him. He said, “Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you: but me ye have not always.” (John 12:& & 8 – Message Bible) Jesus also said in (Mark 14:9 – Message Bible) “Verily I say unto you , Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she (speaking of Mary) hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her” Jesus was facing cruel death for all and I just wonder if the beautiful loving offering that Mary gave might have given Jesus some comfort.
Jesus lodged in Bethany (probably at Mary and Martha’s house) during his final days in Jerusalem, and the Palm Sunday procession started out from there. After Jesus had risen he appeared to his followers (Luke 24:36) and he then led them on the road to Bethany. And in the final chapter of Jesus’ life on earth He parted from His disciples at the Ascension from close to the little village of Bethany where so much of His life was connected.
What a part in the story of Jesus did Mary and Martha’s house play!! Let’s strive to make our homes a place of serving and sharing too so Jesus would feel welcome there just as He did in that humble house in the little town of Bethany!!