Introductory Note:

Rev. Toni Pate, a pastor attending Renovaré’s Pastors Conference later this month, looks at the curious gap in the middle of the recorded events of Holy Week. Perhaps there’s something important for us to notice in what Jesus did not do on Wednesday—a pause between the tense activity of Tuesday and the major events of Thursday. Toni calls us to pay attention to the significance of the place Jesus chose to rest and the family who hosted him.

Renovaré Team

The Pharisees and Sadducees, for once, were in agreement: they needed to be rid of Jesus of Nazareth. On Tuesday Jesus’ enemies hounded him with questions — trying to discredit him in the eyes of the crowds who had filled the city for Passover, hunting for specific evidence which would prove him guilty of some punishable crime.

At the end of the day Jesus and his disciples walked back to the town of Bethany where they had been staying, away from all the scrutiny and hatred of the religious authorities. 

So a safe and quiet place to spend the night was important, a refuge for him from all the harangue and pressure. Unquestionably Bethany was that place. But it wasn’t his favorite because of the location or the accommodations, per se. This small village was the home of Martha and Mary and Lazarus — Jesus’ very dear friends. 

So what does the Bible tell us about them? Do we know anything about this family? 

The first thing we notice is that scripture invariably refers to their residence as the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus.” Jewish homes were always, always, referred to as the home of …whoever the man of the house was. But not this one. This home was owned by Martha. The man of the house would have been named first, unless for some reason he was not capable of managing a home.

Like what? Why might Lazarus not have been the owner? Hold that thought.

Translators have thought that Bethany meant house of figs.” Makes sense — with so many fig trees on that eastern slope above Jerusalem. The Hebrew letters in the two words are similar. But other scholars suggest that in Aramaic, the common language which Jesus spoke, beth anya, or beth ani means house of the poor” or house of affliction.” In fact, many archaeologists now believe the village of Bethany was a center for caring for the sick and the desperately poor — something along the lines of today’s Salvation Army, or Shriners Hospital, or a nursing home community. The ancient Dead Sea Scrolls indicate that there were to be three places designated for the care of the sick, including one for lepers, and they are to be located out of view, on the hillside, east of Jerusalem. 

Could this be Bethany? 

Think about it… The evening meal Jesus had on Tuesday night was at the home of Simon the Leper. Lepers were barred from entering communities of healthy people. And the encounter with Mary and Martha that we know best is when their brother is ill— and then dies. Was Lazarus an invalid, or a leper, and his sisters’ home his hospice? 

It casts such an interesting light on the scene that happens when Mary anoints Jesus. This surely was a most beautiful moment in Jesus’ life.

It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said, Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.”
While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them.1

Anointing a guest with oil or a few drops of perfume was a common practice of hospitality. But Mary poured the whole jar on Jesus’ head. It was an extravagant sign of her love for him. But the disciples — Judas in particular — object to what they consider to be a costly waste. Surely the perfume could have been sold and used for the poor,” they say. Why would they suddenly be concerned about people in poverty? One commentator has asked if this objection was made in embarrassment — here they were in Bethany among those who care for the poor.

Jesus simply says The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.”

Mary understood this. There in the midst of the men Jesus had spent hours and hours with, preparing them for his inevitable death, Mary is one who really understood. The treasured bottle of perfume was to be for the burial of a loved one. She did not wait for that. Instead she chose to sacrifice what she had, pouring love on the head that would soon wear thorns. Against the backdrop of hatred and treachery, in the midst of those who were slow to understand, her love for the Lord shines as a single candle.

And Judas left the house.

There is almost nothing said in any of the four gospels about what happened on Wednesday. Silent Wednesday has become a fascination for me. I can’t help but wonder why none of those hours were recorded. There seems to be something quietly intentional in not recording Wednesday as a day of events.

But it’s not impossible to imagine what Jesus did on Wednesday. We have clues throughout his ministry as to how he retreated from time to time. He often went up into the mountains to pray. He got in a boat and went to the other side of the lake to have a break from the ever-pressing crowd. And although it is only mentioned by name twice, it is likely that the beautiful garden of Gethsemane was a regular place of private prayer for our Lord. 

Mary’s faith and love was a precious prelude for a day of quiet meditation and time in prayer. If Jesus had not known what was coming, it might have just been downtime…rest. He surely needed that. But he did know what was ahead. 

Wednesday was literally Jesus’ last time away from all the madness. And I wonder if there is something so very instructive to us about the fact that even the gospel writers did not know— or chose not to disclose— what our Lord did to prepare himself for the certain death that lay ahead. 

I think we can safely assume that he took comfort from the love and adoration of Mary. I imagine he had to do some serious praying about forgiving the enemies who awaited him. Perhaps being in Bethany, the house of suffering,” prepared him to face his own suffering with steadfastness unto obedience.

When is the last time you and I had our own Wednesday? 

Our sufferings cannot compare to those of Jesus Christ, but we do face difficult situations — all the time! We do have enemies. We do need courage to do the right thing. We do need strength when we are in pain, or are fearful. And we do need rest. And thanks to Jesus who models the life of faithfulness— thanks to his invitation — we can take all of those needs to God our Father, and he will give us what we need. 

Sometime Wednesday Judas Iscariot slipped back into Jerusalem and found the Chief Priest. He had seen enough. His interest in Jesus as a political savior had dissolved, and he was willing to switch sides. He would betray Jesus in exchange for a bag of coins. He would give them a sign — he would feign affection and betray the Son of God with a kiss. 

Wednesday of Holy Week is often referred to as Betrayal Wednesday.” I don’t choose to give betrayal that place in the story. I would rather think of it as the day Jesus spent with his Father in prayer, in the little town of the poor and suffering whom he came to save. 

  1. Mark 14:1 – 10NRSV ↩︎

Photo by Jr Korpa on Unsplash

Text First Published April 2022 · Last Featured on April 2022