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

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

View Selections & Learn More >