As we journey from Ash Wednesday through Lent to Holy Week and land at our destination of Easter Sunday, let’s consider some of the people who were assigned to the space and time that these events took place and how their choices and experiences related to their experience of Jesus. In our attempt to understand their statements and actions, we might see our own reaction to Jesus.
The first three were missing during Easter week. It seems they may have gone into hiding while all of Jerusalem was in a frenzy about whom He was and where He went that week. Yet, their significance to the Easter story cannot be forgotten. Jesus Himself stated that every time the story of Easter is told, their story, especially Mary’s actions, should be recounted.
Of course, I am talking about Jesus’ three close friends from Bethany near Jerusalem—Lazarus, Martha and Mary. These siblings were not only close friends of Jesus, but also enthusiastic about His ministry. We first learn about them from Luke’s retelling of the day Martha hosted Him in her home (Luke 10:38-42). Most notable from this story was the affirmation of Mary for being at His feet listening to what He said as what is better than being focused on practical details required of the guests. We wouldn’t know how dear they were to Jesus, nor that they had a brother called Lazarus, unless John took so much time setting up one of the miracles in his gospel, Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11). It is in this reading that you learn that Lazarus was dearly loved by Jesus. We also observe how differently these three characters relate to Christ. There is a consistency to their characters. Once again Martha is practical and active when interacting with Jesus (questioning His timing and worrying about offensive smells), while we find Mary always falling to the feet of Jesus even though she has the same questions as Martha. All we know about Lazarus is that Jesus loved him very much and that when Lazarus was called out of the tomb after his obvious death, He listened and obeyed.
Just before Holy Week is the last time these three are mentioned. John’s gospel specifically states that six days before the Passover there was a dinner in Bethany, this time at Simon’s home. Martha was there serving. Lazarus was there reclining at the table with Jesus. The disciples were there and others who were more open to considering that Jesus was the Messiah since He had raised Lazarus from the dead. This family was most likely well known and well respected in the religious community, and their experiences with Jesus further validated His legitimacy. Many believe that it was this miracle of Jesus that incited the Religious Leaders to an increased concern about having Him killed. Mary did a beautiful thing in her response to Jesus that is to be remembered every Holy Week. Mary brought a jar of perfume worth a year’s wages and broke it over Jesus’ feet and dried His feet with her hair. While Judas reacted negatively to her gesture of worship, Jesus explained that she had done a beautiful thing and that this act should be remembered at Holy Week in the years to come. Then there is no mention of these close friends of Jesus either at the cross of Christ, or by name in Acts. Their scent goes away from the gospel narratives. We can only imagine the reason. The most likely explanation is that they felt a need to go into hiding sooner than the disciples. Lazarus’ life was being threatened as well as Jesus’ life. The Religious Leaders wanted them both dead.
Perhaps some Jesus followers in Galilee offered their lakeside home as a retreat from Jerusalem and a hiding place from the death threat of the angry Religious Leaders. We don’t know for sure. What we do know is that before they faded away from the pages of the Bible, the three were where they were meant to be just before Holy Week. Each in his or her own unique honored Jesus. Lazarus sat beside Him, Martha served Him and Mary anointed Him for burial.