Author – Rev. Deborah Valiton-Carnish of the Masonic Village at Elizabethtown
The passage we will be walking through today is the Gospel lesson from Saint John. This passage is traditionally known as “Jesus’ anointing at Bethany”
This story is one of the few stories shared in all 4 gospels, the events are a little different in Luke’s telling of it, and some scholars suggest Luke’s account is a different event all together. In
Matthew 26: it says
While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper…
Mark 14: it says
While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard…
Luke 7: it says
When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table…
John 12: it says
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor…
The title for the message is “Back to Bethany”…Back to Bethany.
What kind of place was Bethany? It was known for being a town which housed the infirmed, underprivileged and the sick. There was a known Almsgiving House located there and many people were placed there if they were in need.
People were labeled unclean in that day if they suffer particular illness or visible diseases. Jewish law defined nothing unclean was to be seen within a (minimum) radius of three thousand cubits, in other words 1,800 yards around the city of Jerusalem.
Since Bethany was, according to John, fifteen stadia (about 1.72 miles) from the holy city, care for the sick there corresponded with the requirements of the Temple Scroll. Jerusalem as many know is up on a hill and Bethany lay below to the southeast, out of view of the Temple Mount, which may have made its location suitable as a place for care of the sick, “out of view” of the Temple.
This characterization of a city to hold sick people is striking, is it not? Different than today where we may go to a particular city that has the best cancer treatment or is known for the best heart and vascular research…these folks were in this city because they were not allowed by law to be seen from the Temple Mount.
The sick, the infirmed, the unclean were outcast and shamed. The place, the Place of worship, where one could pay homage or participant in ritual cleansing was out of reach for these folks, they were not to be seen from the Holy place, completely…out of view.
Now today we may think this is awful. Especially, if there are those of us that are sick. Imagine if we were shunned or isolated? Put out of view of Sell Chapel or any Christian ritual we join together in. what if we were forced to silence and seclusion? Far away from the things we once enjoyed being a part of. Still sounds awful and yet…many of us know this…these feelings are not far away… this is your current experience. A modern day Bethany many of us find ourselves in. So unfortunate, and yet so true.
I will risk saying this, for some of us; we create our own Bethany, our place of seclusion, hiding our sickness, eclipsing our ailments or weaknesses. Is that a bad thing…no…like anything else it is a choice, but what if that choice leads to hiding from the very folks who would welcome you and help you through a current struggle? Just a thought. We hide reality behind our joyful smile or comedic phase you know those phrases, the ones we repeat so nobody can get to the vulnerable us…
For instance, “I’m good”, “all is fine”, “hanging in there”, “one day at a time”, “can’t complain, nobody would listen anyway”. At my home church in TN, our Pastors wife was really a nice person but she was so hard to get to know, she was guarded, every time you would ask her how she was, she would offer the same response, “I’m blessed”. I thought that was cute the first 100 times I heard it but then one of my friends picked it up and it became her slogan. It was hard to engage in any conversation with her because she always said the same thing. So I eventually stopped asking them how they were, and just said hello.
I hope she had someone get to her real self, I hope there was someone she shared with. None of us want to be alone. But we can be if we choice, we can hide behind our smiles and phrases. Our society is a petri tree dish for hiding our truths.
Think about something as simple as the commercials we see on TV. The advertising campaigns for pharmaceuticals. They are designed to show people or cartoon figures hoping around happy, secure and vibrant and gleeful. All because they took this wonderful medicine to help with their ailments.
Then, a silent low-tone voice comes over the TV offering us particulars as they race through all the horrible side effects that can occur on this miracle working drug. But we are distracted by the advertiser’s way of hiding the audible words with the visible actions of the people in the commercial. For instance, I’m not going hear them say this medication may cause urgent need to use the restroom, if the scene in the commercial is a cheerful, jolly couple frolicking in an open field with nothing else in sight but beautiful wildflowers. Not a porta potty within 500 yards!
It does something to our brains; advertising at its best is attempting to shift reality into an imitation of authenticity. So in other words, if y’all find that field and flowers and lifelong physical bliss, let us know we’re all coming with ya. Then the field will be cluttered and overcrowded.
Bethany. What is Jesus thinking? In previous gospel scriptures chronological order of events has Jesus was on the Temple grounds before leaving Jerusalem and going (here is the phrase) “Back to Bethany”. If you ever been to a place of sickness and poverty, you never want to go back. For some of us…we had no choice. Cancer returns, heart valves need replaced, medication needs adjusted and finances, just when we think we are ok, another medical bill or financial crisis comes in. Not to mention death, death respects no person nor calendar, nor time of day. Bethany…the Bethany in our own lives we want to avoid at all costs.
But Jesus…he went back… he didn’t have to, the events of these next couple weeks leading up to the resurrection were going to happen anyway…why’d he go back? Why did he come back?
He was invited. He was invited by the poor; he was invited by the sick. Simon the Leper in particular. Simon may have been a leper healed by Jesus and this is a dinner of gratitude with him and Lazarus…Now a Leper, these poor folks had to walk about yelling “UNCLEAN UNCLEAN” so nobody would touch them because if anyone touched them they to became unclean and had to go through ritual cleansing.
Jesus reclined at a table with a leper, a dead man and was anointed there by a woman who wiped the oil with her hair. They all had something very important in common… they were filthy by society’s standards. Unclean, unwanted, isolated, overlooked, abandoned. Do any of us feel that way?
Maybe we can’t do the things we once did, limited mobility and/ or cognition, maybe we wanted to offer more to our children, maybe we thought we had more time with our spouse. Whatever pain, whether it be physical, emotional or spiritual, the Bethany we are in is not abandoned. It is not isolated it is not forgotten; we are not put off or put out. WE ARE IMPORTANT and we matter, because you knows us?
The King of Kings,
Prince of peace,
The Lamb of God,
Our great Jehovah,
The Alpha and Omega the beginning and the end is all in Jesus Christ. We are known by him and he reclines at the table with us. For we are his friends and for his friends he returns to Bethany.