Where did Jesus and the others from Galilee stay when they came to Jerusalem for Passover? John’s gospel account we read today suggests Bethany and the Mount of Olives. Ancient caves on the land the Passionists have in Bethany at St. Martha’s could have provided temporary shelter for pilgrims for the feast. Caves like these would be common in the large olive groves that gave a name to the mountain east of Jerusalem.
Then there are Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus, friends of Jesus. They would have lived here too. The meal recalled today suggests that Jesus, who raised Lazarus from the dead, was welcomed here by this grateful family . On the outskirts of Jerusalem, the first place Galilean pilgrims reached on the road from Jericho after their journey down the Jordan Valley, Bethany would be a safe place for Jesus and his followers to stay.
From here he would go to the temple to teach and make the claims that unsettled the city’s leaders. Judas would give him up on Holy Thursday as he prayed in Gethsemane, the Garden of Olives.
Luke’s gospel doesn’t mention Bethany because the evangelist sees Jerusalem and its temple as the goal of Jesus’ earthly journey before he ascends to the New Jerusalem with those who follow him. But Luke’s narrative of the Passion mentions “ A large crowd of people followed Jesus” on the way to his death “including many women who mourned and lamented him. Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children…’”
Were Martha and Mary and the other women from Bethany among them? They’re followers of Jesus. Besides Simon of Cyrene and the thief, they take part in the journey Luke highlights, a journey leading, not to death, but to Paradise.
The Church of St. Martha and buildings next to it stand over parts of the ancient village of Bethany in East Jerusalem. The traditional tomb of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, is a short distance from St. Martha’s, although an Israeli security wall blocks access to it now. Olive trees that once covered this area in Jesus’ time grace the property of St. Martha’s. The place evokes memories of the time when Jesus was here.