Lazarus Tells About Jesus’ First Visit to Bethany

Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. Luke 9:58

The day passed quickly. A symphony of noise clanged from the courtyard all day. Shadows crisscrossed the road in front of our house. The evening sky heralded Jesus’ arrival at the eleventh hour.

Martha greeted Jesus warmly, receiving Him gladly into our home.

We later discovered that the Teacher and His followers had just been rejected in Samaria. What a stark contrast to come to a household that knew who He was and appreciated Him for it, though we would learn so much more about Him in the days to come.

Meeting His twelve followers for the first time was memorable. They were all young men; most were in their late teens.1

Matthew had to bend down to get through the doorway. John didn’t say much, but he greeted Martha, Mary, my father, and me with a warm hug. He reminded me of Mary. Peter impulsively tried to dictate where everyone sat at the table. He reminded me of Martha. That night, Thomas privately suggested to me that my father should see the village doctor to verify the completeness of his healing. He was a questioner.

The others were pleasant to be around. They were careful observers, studying Jesus at all times.

Then there was the Teacher Himself. He was so confident, yet so warm. He emitted a quiet strength. But He was terribly meek as well. I felt immense love and acceptance from Him.

Jesus and I were the same age—thirty-one when we first met.

Martha escorted them all into the public room. Our home in Bethany is one of the largest in the village, so all of us—fifteen men—sat comfortably.

My father and I took our place at the Teacher’s feet along with His disciples. Jesus began teaching about the kingdom of God and how to pray.

Mary caught my eye. She was roaming in the courtyard, peeking into the room, stirring a bowl.

Suddenly, she left the courtyard and sat at the Teacher’s feet with the rest of us.

My jaw dropped.

Even though I’ve known Mary to be a person who follows her heart, I never dreamed she would be so bold as to take the place of the men. I scanned the faces of the disciples. No one batted an eye.

My father and I quietly looked at one another in surprise.

Every other teacher would have scolded Mary severely for taking the posture of a disciple and sitting in the public room, where only men were permitted.

But Mary was an instinctive soul. Somehow she knew that Jesus would permit her to sit at His feet with the others, even though it was considered scandalous.

Just ending a sentence, Jesus looked at Mary, faintly smiled, and carried on His teaching.

In reverent and rapt contemplation, Mary sat at the feet of Jesus with the rest of us. She was attentive and attuned. Did her heart soar at hearing His words as mine did? We both took in every word and gesture, gaining the courage to pull in closer.

I could hear the banging of pots in the courtyard. The sound grew louder by the second. I sensed that Martha was upset, and I was right. She stormed into the room with her arms folded. Her voice echoed off the rafters.

“Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” she protested.

I flinched.

An awkward silence filled the room.

Mary, who had been listening to Jesus in sacred worship and silent wonder, dropped her head. She did not utter a word. The disciples froze.

My heart went out to Mary. I felt embarrassed for her. I knew that Martha’s words stung. And I was ashamed that Martha brought Jesus into the matter, accusing Him of being careless. A flash of anger crossed my chest.

Jesus turned to Martha and gently but sternly said,

“Martha, Martha. You are worried and upset about all of these details. There’s only one thing you need. And Mary has made the right choice. She has chosen the one thing, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Mary had breached a barrier by sitting in the men’s space. And on top of that, she sat in the posture of a disciple. Every teacher before or since had only male disciples. Jesus was the uncommon exception. He welcomed women to be His disciples also.

I was impressed that the Teacher defended Mary. I was equally impressed with His tenderness toward Martha, disarming her by saying her name twice.

Martha’s face relaxed. She dropped her chin slightly, unfolded her arms, and walked slowly back into the courtyard.

I could tell Martha was embarrassed. The Teacher’s words left a wound for several days. It was especially difficult for Martha to accept the added praise that Jesus gave to Mary. But she eventually came to terms with what He said, and she was never the same. Afterward, she was less distracted, less worried, less agitated.

by Frank Viola, author, in his book God’s Favorite Place on Earth.

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