Gospel Sources

In the Gospel passages referring to Bethany, three stories stand out. First, there is the story Francis cited in his Rule for Hermitages, when Jesus visits the home of Martha and Mary, and Mary sits at his feet as an attentive disciple while Martha works at the household tasks (Luke 10:38-42).

Secondly, there is the raising of Lazarus from the tomb, when Martha confronts Jesus on the way to the grave (John 11:1-45).

Finally, there is the story of the dinner at Martha's house, when Mary washes the feet of Jesus with perfume while Lazarus, newly raised from the dead, shares in the meal prepared by Martha (John 12:1-19).

Other references to Bethany in the Gospels include:

  • Mk. 11:1 (Jesus' entry into Jerusalem)
  • Mk. 14:3-9 (the anointing of Jesus on the head with perfume)
  • Mt. 26:6-13 (parallel passage to Mk. 14)
  • Mt. 21:17 (Jesus returns to Bethany after cleansing the Temple)
  • Luke 24:50 (the Ascension of Jesus)

As we have reflected on the Gospel sources, we came to see a description of ministry in a contemplative mode. We can distinguish six models of ministry, intertwined as if in a web of relationships, seen from two perspectives.

1. The ministry of Jesus toMary, Martha and Lazarus

  • To Mary: Jesus gives her the gift of contemplative intimacy with himself as he treats her as a disciple who is a peer to any male disciple.
  • To Martha: Jesus gives her the gift of enlightenment both in his conversation with her at her home ("there is need of only one thing") and his dialogue with her on the way to her brother's tomb ("I am the resurrection and the life"). Martha is given the gift of the Lord's transforming word and so is led to conversion, through Kenosis, as she empties herself of her honest feelings and deepest grief.
  • To Lazarus: Jesus gives him back the gift of life by raising him from the dead.

2. The ministry of the Spirit of God throughMary, Martha and Lazarus.

  • Through Mary: She washes the feet of Jesus and becomes a witness to the call of every disciple to intimacy with God. Out of this intimacy comes a powerful ministry of prayer for and with others.
  • Through Martha: She models the ministry of hospitality when she welcomes Jesus into her home. She participates in the ministry of preaching the Word of God when she shares her faith in the power of Jesus to raise her brother from the dead.
  • Through Lazarus: After being raised from the tomb, he is opposed by others as Jesus is opposed and participates in the ministry of the cross. He who has been healed is called to become a minister of healing for others as an example of what is possible for God.