Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

Jesus and His Friends


When we think about Jesus, it is hard to see him as just a regular guy - a guy who eats and sleeps, who gets tired and sore, a guy who has friends…. We know about the disciples but they were more like students and helpers. Jesus was not only divine, he was not only God, he was human; he was just like all of us, someone who needed down time, someone who needed occasionally to relax, someone who liked to spend an evening with his friends. And we are told in the accounts of Jesus, that in Bethany Jesus would find the time to visit and relax and spend time with his friends - the sisters and their brother, Martha, Mary and Lazarus who lived in the town of Bethany.
We are almost done the journey with Jesus. Next week, Palm Sunday, we will reach our destination; we will enter Jerusalem. Jesus started this journey in Capernaum, traveled through Samaria, took the road to Jericho, spend some time at Zacchaeus’ home and today we travel with him to the small town of Bethany.
Bethany was just a couple miles from Jerusalem and still exists today by a different name. Bethany was the site of an almshouse for the poor and a place of care for the sick. It was also the site of one of the leper colonies that existed around Palestine. Bethany has 2 of the most sacred sites for Christian pilgrims - the home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus which is believed to still stand today and the tomb of Lazarus. This is the Lazarus Jesus’ raised from the dead - who tradition said was killed by the Jews because he was a testimony to the power of Jesus who had brought him back to life. Bethany was believed to have been settled by travelers from Galilee who went to work in Jerusalem. This would explain how Jesus knew Mary, Martha and Lazarus since Jesus is from Galilee and why he and the disciples felt at home staying there.
We have accounts of Jesus being in Bethany many times staying with Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Martha is the old sister and is the go - getter, the busy one, the sister who is always up and moving and doing….. Mary is the quiet, reflective, softer of the two and as we know from one of the stories about Jesus, these two didn’t always see eye to eye with each other.
Jesus had sent word to the sisters that he was on his way to visit. Of course they were thrilled to see Jesus and Martha begins a flurry of work. No different than many of us when we find out we are having company. She began to dust the furniture and throw the best table cloth on the table and sweep the floors and pick up the mess and wipe down the bathrooms and put some fresh flowers around and when all that was done she would walk around her home and make sure everything was just so…..
then Jesus shows up and she takes him into the parlor where Mary is waiting for him and Martha fluffs the pillows and shows him a comfortable chair and leaves to go fix the meal - leaving Mary to stay with Jesus. Mary and Jesus begin to talk and Mary is fascinated by what he says and she is learning quite a bit when from the kitchen they hear the cabinets being slammed shut and the pots and pans being banged around and the drawers being loudly shoved closed and the door of the oven banging…. And Martha muttering….
You see Martha had left to go into the kitchen to fix a meal for her special company, fully expecting Mary to follow her into help. But Martha realized that Mary was not coming and she was pretty angry. “How dare that sister of mine leave all the work to me. Who does she think I am, the servant around here? After all who was it who cleaned the house and washed the bed linens and made sure everything was fresh and cozy for Jesus when he got here. Where was the ungrateful sister of mine who left me to do all the work. That’s all I do around here is work, work, work… While that Mary just sits around and does nothing. Well I have had enough…..”
And Martha stomps out of the kitchen banging closed the kitchen door and makes a loud entrance into the room where Jesus and Mary are talking and says, “Jesus! Don’t you care about me? Here I am slaving and working my fingers to the bone and she” pointing to her sister Mary “is just being lazy and not helping me at all! Jesus, make her help me!”
Now I envision a smile on Jesus face about right now with Martha standing over him with her hands on her hips and Mary looking from Jesus to Martha a little terrified of what Jesus was gong to say. And to both of their surprise, Jesus says, “Martha, Martha. Calm down. Mary has chosen the right thing, I came here to spend time with you both. A peanut butter sandwich would have been fine - I don’t need an elaborate meal… I’d rather have time to spend with Mary and with you.” The story ends here but i would love to know what happens next - Did Martha leave the room in a huff because her sister was praised and she was criticized? Did Martha say, “I’m sorry Jesus. I was just trying to do what I thought was right?” Did Mary say, “I’ll go and finish up Martha, you spend some time with Jesus.” But we will never know and what happened next wasn’t the point - the point was helping us to see the value in just spending time with Jesus. We don’t always have to be doing something - quiet time with Jesus is just, if not more, important than doing….
Jesus came back to Bethany on a later date. Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus had died and they had summoned Jesus to come but he got there too late. But the story reminds us that it is never too late for Jesus…. he goes up to the tomb, has the stone rolled away, and out comes Lazarus - alive! Of course the story was to be a foreshadowing of the events to come - just as they rolled the stone away and Jesus was alive!
And now, Jesus and the disciples journey to Bethany for one last time. This will be the last evening he can spend with his friends. He has dinner at the home of Simon the Leper where Mary Magdalene enters and anoints Jesus with much criticism from the disciples. How dare a woman enter this home and humiliate herself by pouring expensive oil over Jesus. The oil she used would have cost about a year’s wage. This is how important Jesus was to her that she was willing to sacrifice that much for Jesus. People would often buy nard as a type of retirement account - like people invest in a 401K today - so what she has given to Jesus is her future; her security. And the disciples just didn’t get it - why didn’t she just give you the Nard and we could have used it to help the poor or finance our ministry. It is just wasted now and is of no use.
Well, Jesus was pretty annoyed at the disciples at this point. “No” he said, “You are wrong” Just like he said about Mary when Martha was fussing at her, Jesus said, “She has chosen the correct thing. She has given me honor. This is her way of pledging her life and her trust in me. And she is getting me ready for my burial next week. And” he added as emphasis that Mary had done the right thing, “she will forever be remembered for honoring me as she has…” And he’s right - we are still talking about this sacrificial act to this day.
Even though Bethany was a place of rest for Jesus, we still can learn a lot from what happened in this small town at the home of Jesus’ friends. These are things that we need to consider as we think this Lent about our relationship with Jesus. We learned from Mary the importance of spending quiet, learning time and from Martha we learned that you don’t always have to be doing something. It is OK to sit down, to relax, to spend time with friends. We learned that Jesus cares deeply about his friends - in the account of the death of Lazarus we read that when Jesus saw how sad Mary and Martha were, even though he knew he was about to bring Lazarus back to life, he still wept for their pain - and he does the same for us. When we are in the depths of pain and suffering and sadness and loss - Jesus knows and Jesus weeps with us…..
And then we see where Jesus wanted to spend his last hours - with his friends.
Think about who we are as a church; as a congregation; as a family. What ties us together is this relationship, this friendship with Jesus and with one another. We are gathered here together to represent Jesus with one another - to love each other and to cry with each other and to care for each other and maybe like Jesus to occasionally fuss at each other when we get off the tract and forget what is important…
As we wind down these weeks of Lent, consider your friends here at Sweetwater - your family. Consider what we mean to each other; the relationship with have with one another; consider how, through Jesus Christ, we are a great family of God.