"Six days before the Passover ceremonies began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus--the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus' honor. Martha served, and Lazarus sat at the table with him. Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus' feet with it and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with fragrance." John 12:1-3
We find ourselves here at Bethany, amid fig-trees, and olives, and sycamores. In its quiet hollow, on the eastern slope of Olivet--there it lies, encircled with its orchards, out of the reach of the city din. It has been noted for many things in the life of Christ--but specially for the resurrection of Lazarus. The like could not be said of Jerusalem, though so near at hand. And with what an eye of solemn wonder would men look on it, as they passed on their way to or from Jericho, saying to each other--In yon village a man was raised from the dead!
The house at which we find ourselves is that of Simon the leper: "Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had leprosy." Matthew 26:6--a house that had once been shunned, and would still be looked upon with a suspicious eye. To this house Jesus had been invited; and he goes. What matters the name of a leprous house to one who has come to heal; to one whom no infection can touch, and all diseases obey. The feast is a great one; and many are there; some to see Jesus, and some Lazarus, the risen man. It is Jesus, however, who is the center of the circle; and round him the group is gathered. The people mentioned here are only spoken of in connection with Him--Lazarus, Mary, Martha, are but subordinate parts, in a scene of which the Lord is the center. From him it is that they derive all their interest and significance. Their names, their persons, their characters, their movements, are nothing to us--except in their relation to him.
Apart from him, too, the feast is but a common meal, such as is every day partaken of among men. It is His presence which sanctifies it, and turns it into something special, if not sacramental. When he comes in and sups with us, the room, the table, the food, the company undergo a transfiguration. Connection with him dignifies and ennobles--no, consecrates them. Without him all things are but common. With him they become sacred and lofty. As his touch healed, so did his presence elevate and glorify.
Let us note each of the four personages here, in so far as they are linked with him who gives meaning and importance to what they are, and what they do.
I. Simon entertaining. He had known Christ before; though when and where we are not told. It seems to have been his leprosy which first brought him to Christ, and Christ to him. His disease was his link of connection with the Lord; and had it not been for it, he might never have sought him. It is still so with us. Our first interview is respecting our sin, our moral leprosy. It is conscience that seeks the interview, even though filled with misgivings as to its result. We go to converse with him, not about the good that is in us--but the evil. The sense of guilt draws us to him as the pardoner, and the consciousness of sin constrains us to deal with him as the healer and renewer. And as we began, so also do we go on. Sin brought us to him, and him to us; and sin keeps us constantly at his side. Communion with him has become a necessity of our new being. It cannot break or end. It must not be loosened--but drawn closer every day; for the more that we get from him, the more we learn our need.
Simon finds that he has much more to do with Jesus than merely for the cure of his leprosy; therefore he must have him under his roof, and at his table. So is it with us. We begin our relationship with Jesus, by going to him with our sins; but we soon discover that it cannot be ended here. Our acquaintanceship must be a companionship; a constant interchange of thought and sympathy. We invite him to our house, and he comes. We ask him to dine with us, and he comes. For no invitation, whether from Pharisee or tax-collector, did the Lord ever decline. He sits down to feast with us at our table here; and while sitting there as our guest, he invites us to sup with him at his table above, where we shall be the guests, and he the host. How great the honor enjoyed by Simon, of entertaining the Lord of glory; sitting at his own table, with Jesus at his side as his guest! And how marvelous the condescension of Christ, in thus sitting at the leper's table as one of his household! Here, then, is the Savior that suits us--the healer of the leper, and the guest of the healed one! We say to him, "Heal me," and he heals; "come in," and he comes; "sit down at my table," and he sits down immediately.
In this Bethany-feast, it is interesting to notice what we may call the sinner's side of the gospel. Here, it is not Christ inviting and receiving the sinner; but the sinner inviting and receiving Christ. It is not Christ saying, "Come to me, and I will give you rest;" it is the sinner saying to Christ, "Come to me, and I will feast you;" it is not Christ knocking at the sinner's door--but the sinner knocking at Christ's; it is not Christ supplying the sinner's needs--but the sinner supplying Christ's. In our dealings with the Lord we must not overlook either side. He is, no doubt, first with us in all things; but this should only make us the more anxious to remember the response--the lifetime's response--with which he expects to be met. The love and the embrace must be mutual, as also the invitation and the joy. It is not Joseph weeping on the neck of Benjamin; but Benjamin weeping on the neck of Joseph.
II. Lazarus feasting. He is a fellow-guest, with the Lord himself, at Simon's table. When Simon sends his invitation to Christ to dine with him, he bids Lazarus also to the feast. And there this resurrected one sits, side by side with Jesus, at the leper's table. What a feast, and what a company! The like had not been seen before; Simon the healed one, and Christ the Healer; Lazarus the raised one, and Christ the Raiser; dipping in the same dish, drinking of the same cup, conversing together on the things of the kingdom.
How or when Lazarus first became acquainted with Christ we know not; but it was his death that had brought about the special closeness of contact; and it was at the tomb, not at the table, that the Lord and he had so wonderfully met. The living One had gone into the tomb--the dwelling of death, and there met the dead man in his dark abode. What a meeting! Ah, surely, Lazarus then discovered that he needed Jesus in a way such as he had never done before. Back from the silent chamber Jesus had led him; and now he sits down with him, at a table of earth--type of the risen saints who are to take their places with the Lord at the marriage-supper of the Lamb. What has Lazarus now to do--but to gaze and listen? Simon entertains; Lazarus sits as guest, drinking in the everlasting words from heavenly lips, and holding fellowship with the blessed Speaker. This is our true posture, as those who have died and risen with Christ! Listening; yes, LISTENING; not bustling, nor talking; but listening to the Lord. There is a time for working and for speaking; but there is a time for listening. Blessed are they that know it, in an impetuous age like ours. When shall we learn it; and, in so doing, taste the profound tranquility with which it soothes the soul?
III. Martha serving. This is her usual employment. To serve the Lord of glory; to watch at the table; to observe all his motions--to anticipate his wishes and supply his wants; this is Martha's posture, both of body and soul. It was the lowest place, yet not the least blessed; more like his own than any other. He came to serve; and in this Martha imitates him. To resemble him in anything was to be partaker of his blessedness and to share his fellowship. To have in us any part of "that mind that was in Christ Jesus," is both honor and joy. Service to Christ in any form, how blessed! To loose his shoe-latchet; to wipe the dust from his feet or the sweat from his weary brow; to pour water upon his hands or to prepare his couch; to supply any of his commonest needs, or render the simplest offices of happy love--these are things which angels might covet, even were it for nothing else than the near contact with himself into which they bring us; for anything that brings us within the sound of his voice, or the glance of his eye, or the touch of his hand, must be blessedness. And if any one asks, how this can be done now, seeing he is in heaven and we on earth; we answer at once in his own gracious words, "inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me." He serves us, and we serve him; and in this mutual service we have our mutual fellowship and common joy.
IV. Mary anointing. Reverence, homage, love, are all embodied in this act. It was with desire to honor him; and also with a dim half-conscious reference to his coming death and burial that she did this. She grudges no cost; and as the Bride in the song says, "the best wine for my beloved," so said her heart, if not her lips, "the best spikenard for my beloved Lord." All to honor him whom she so reverently loved. She is not entertaining, like Simon; she is not feasting, like Lazarus; she is not serving, like Martha; she is doing what some would consider a very useless thing, pouring ointment on his feet! That is all! Oh, useless expense and waste of substance, that might have benefited the poor! Yet her act gets most notice from her Lord. He says nothing to Simon, nor Lazarus, nor Martha. It is Mary that he marks and commends. Her fervent love, pouring itself out in one single act of devotion, gets the highest notice. Is there no silent lesson here for us? It is not labor, nor suffering, that get the fullest commendation from Jesus; it is love; pure, warm, ungrudging, loyal love. It is this that gets the Master's "Well done." He can do without the others--but not without this.
Thus, these four are presented to us in connection with the Lord; and such are the different points at which the connection comes out. Simon's connection is that of entertaining Christ; Lazarus's is that of feasting with him; Martha's that of serving him; and Mary's that of anointing. In all these ways there is connection, living connection, the contact both of faith and love. There is nearness, there is communion; not once--but constantly; not for a day--but forever. It matters little in which of these ways we may have this connection. They are all real and they are all blessed--the entertaining, the feasting, the serving, the anointing. We may have each of them in turn; for a Christian's life is an enjoyment of all the four. Yesterday he was Simon; today he is Lazarus; tomorrow he may be Martha; the day after, Mary!
It is but little indeed that we can taste here, even in the walk of happiest fellowship; for the best of earthly feasts are but foretastes of the marriage-supper. But the whole glad fullness we shall yet enjoy, when all things are made new; and when we shall meet a long absent Lord, not at our table--but at his own; not in Simon's house--but in the great hall of the new creation, when God shall have cleansed this old leprous earth and healed its leprous dwellers; not amid the fig-trees of Bethany--but under the shade of the eternal palms. That day shall be the day of the Master's joy, as well as of ours--he feasting with us, and we with him; he enjoying our fellowship, and we his, for evermore!