In order to make the two mile “Sabbath Day’s Journey” from Jerusalem to the little biblical village of Bethany, one would need to leave the city, cross the Kidron Valley, climb the Mount of Olives, and descend the Mount of Olives, where the village of Bethany was situated on the south eastern slope of the mountain. Sight of Bethany was concealed in Jerusalem by the Mount of Olives and was known as the “house of misery” where lepers and others with contagious diseases were quarantined. It seems that no one in their right mind would have wanted to visit Bethany especially when they could stay in the relative opulence of the city of Jerusalem. Some of the biblical references to Bethany are only “in the vicinity of Bethany” since it was no more than a little village similar to a modern-day rundown sub-division. Yet Jesus visited Bethany, and its vicinities, practically every time he visited Jerusalem.
Bethany was where Jesus’ friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived. It was where Jesus would raise Lazarus from the dead. True to form, Jesus, right in the middle of Holy Week, traveled to Bethany and stayed there overnight at Simon the Leper’s house and was anointed by Mary with expensive oil in preparation for his burial. It seemed like a real low point in the ministry of Jesus as his disciples chastised him for allowing Mary to “waste” this perfume on him…not to mention that Jesus would later inexplicably curse one of its poor fig trees. How much worse could it possibly get than being in Bethany, or even “in the vicinity of Bethany”, the week of Jesus’ crucifixion?
We are tempted to ask the same question today…some are in the crosshairs of the Coronavirus…the rest of us are in the “vicinity” of the Coronavirus. A place of uncertainty, enslavement, and fear. We just want it to go away!
But Bethany, and its vicinity, would also become the place of clarity, freedom, and hope!
It was the place where Jesus, 40 days after his resurrection, commissioned those same thick-headed disciples, minus one, to go to Jews and Gentiles alike, and preach the Gospel! (Acts 1:8)
It was the place where Jesus ascended into Heaven! (Luke 24:50)
It was the place where angels would appear to the bewildered and stuck disciples and offer clarity, freedom, and hope! (Acts 1:11)
And Bethany, formerly the place of isolation and quarantine, will eventually be the place where Jesus visits again at his Second Coming! Zechariah 1:14 tells us that “on that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, in front of Jerusalem on the east”.
As we find ourselves in the middle of Holy Week and in the middle of this uncertain, enslaving, and scary Coronavirus crisis, or in its vicinity, we are assured in the Scriptures that somehow and some way God will transform this “house of misery” into clarity, freedom and….HOPE!