The city of al-Eizariya is roughly 2 miles from the city of Jerusalem on the eastern side of the Mount of Olives. It is the likely location of the biblical village of Bethany, a place of friendship for Jesus.
While some may question that this is the site of Bethany of the Bible, Christians have been worshipping in this place for centuries. It is the site of a cavern tomb that many believe to be the tomb of Lazarus whom Jesus revived from death (John 11). Interestingly, CNN’s series, Finding Jesus, focused on Lazarus just a few days ago. As I watched clips, I found myself saying, “I was just there!”
Bethany was the home of Simon the Leper (Matthew 26:6-13). The home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (Luke 10; John 11-12; etc). The likely site of Jesus’ Ascension (Luke 24; allusions in Acts 1).
Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, were dear friends of Jesus. We can see this when Lazarus dies in John 11. The sisters send for Jesus to come at once saying, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” Also, we can see the depth of their relationship again in the short verse, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). We see the depth of human emotion that Jesus felt at Lazarus’ death. Some scholars believe that Lazarus is the unnamed “Beloved Disciple” of the Gospel of John.
When Jesus travels to Jerusalem, he stays at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. This is explicit in John 12, when Jesus comes to their house 6 days before his final Passover. It is at this time when John reports Mary anointing him with perfume–an act that Jesus interprets as a burial anointment. A similar story is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, but this time at the house of Simon the Leper (also in Bethany) and with a stranger anointing him. Maybe they both happened. Maybe the different writers remembered it differently. Who knows?
What we do know, however, is that, for Jesus, Bethany was a place of friendship. For many years, when Jesus would have made his regular required trips to Jerusalem, he likely stayed with his friends in Bethany. He would have gotten to know them well over the years. Similarly, they would have shared meals, religious fellowship, and ever-growing friendship.
Bethany is a place for friendship.
When we visited the site of Lazarus’ tomb, I remembered the miracle of him walking out of the tomb. I remembered that I was standing in very close proximity to where Jesus spent his last days and where he likely ascended into heaven.
All of these things were very meaningful to me. Yet, it was Jesus’ friendships that moved me that day. Jesus wasn’t a lone ranger. He had deep, meaningful relationships with people. He was formed in community and continued to be formed in community. And he was vulnerable with those who were close to him.
I visited Bethany with friends. Some of the most intense, formative, and meaningful experiences of my life were lived with Mike, Meg, and the people of the Isle of Hope United Methodist Church who were my fellow pilgrims on this journey. I had made new friends, too. Those who I met and got to know on our travels.
Additionally, I thought about how God has continued to bless me with new friendships. Over the past 3 years, I have developed deep and meaningful friendships with the members of the Lyons First United Methodist Church. Nearly 2 years ago, I had the blessing of forming a Study, Sabbath, and Service (S3) Group with 7 other young pastors in our Annual Conference. This has been a deep blessing to my life. Additionally, there are 2 particular men who have become brothers to me in recent years.
Lone Ranger to Community
To be honest, there was a time when friendship wasn’t a priority for me. I filled my life with apprenticeship in ministry, seminary, and focusing solely on excellence in ministry. While those are noble things, this is not the model that Jesus lived. Life without valuing my meaningful friendships left a deep emptiness in my life. I learned along the way that discipleship requires friendship. The Christian faith is a relational one, and while solitude and discipline are vital parts of our spiritual formation, community is a means of grace that cannot be dispensed with (for me, at least).
In community, I learn about myself; learn to receive grace; and practice vulnerability in a safe environment. This vulnerability leads to deeper communion with God and a greater capacity to love (which I am sure that my family is grateful for).
Friendship challenges me. It brings me comfort. I have trusted people who can lovingly reflect back to me what I am putting into the world and can gently guide me into the deepest paths of love and away from self-deception.
Bethany was a place of friendship for Jesus. A place of vulnerability, joy, and grace. I am thankful that God has given me a Bethany of my own–deep and lasting friendships.