Where did Jesus and his followers stay when they came to Jerusalem for Passover? John’s gospel today points to Bethany near the Mount of Olives. On the outskirts of Jerusalem, Bethany was the first place Galilean pilgrims reached coming up the road from Jericho after traveling down the Jordan Valley,
The meal recalled today suggests they were welcomed by Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary, who lived here. They were friends of Jesus, who raised Lazarus from the dead. Bethany would be a safe place for Jesus and his followers to stay.
My community, the Passionists, have the Church of St. Martha and a retreat house next to it standing over the ancient village of Bethany, today part of East Jerusalem. Olive trees once covered this area in Jesus’ time; they grace the property of St. Martha today. Ancient caves are found here. In Jesus’ day they probably provided shelter for visitors to the feasts. In our first reading today Isaiah speaks of God’s humble Servant bringing peace, not crying out, not making much of himself. Could he have stayed in a cave like this? Bethany evokes memories of the time Jesus was here.
The traditional tomb of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, is a short distance from St. Martha’s, although an Israeli security wall blocks access to it now.
From Bethany Jesus and the others would go to the temple. He taught there and made claims that unsettled the city’s leaders, then he returned to the safety of Bethany, staying among friends. Judas knew the place. On Holy Thursday he gave Jesus up as he prayed in Gethsemane, the Garden of Olives, a short distance away..
Luke’s narrative of the Passion mentions “ A large crowd of people followed Jesus” on the way to his death “including many women who mourned and lamented him. Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children…’”
Were Martha and Mary from Bethany, who anointed Jesus’ feet, among them? Was Mary his mother and the other women who came with him from Galilee also there. I think so.