Bethany Walk, Passion of Love
Rev. Jim Ryan, Ph.D.
This Palm Sunday our Gospel was of the entry into Jerusalem. We will save the reading of the Passion narrative for its proper day and time which is Good Friday. This allows us to focus on Jesus’ Passion of Love.
Today we are doing the Bethany Walk – keeping pace with Jesus on the 2 mile distance between Bethany and the Temple in Jerusalem. This is the walk that Jesus and his followers took on the morning he rode a donkey into the city – referred to in other places as a triumphal entry. Maybe, maybe not. What matters, it seems to me, is how his followers viewed what they witnessed. The Gospels of Matthew and Mark relate a similar series of events in that final week of Jesus’ life pre-resurrection. Scholars tell us that two theories of composition are at work here. One is that Mark serves as the source for Matthew. The other is that both are using the same source known as “Q.” Whatever the source, it seems to report clearly the earliest memories of the life of Jesus. And whichever the case, I invite us this morning to focus on this schedule that Jesus kept of walking between Bethany and the Temple in that week. These hikes were full of meaning and love. In this way we join the disciples in having a view on what matters.
Why Bethany? Jesus made it home base that week, but why? Remember that the town was the home place of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. One could easily see that their friends were Jesus’ friends. Also in Bethany lived Simon the Leper at whose house during this week a dinner was held in Jesus’ honor. This was the dinner at which a woman poured perfumed oil into Jesus’ hair. I speculate that Bethany, being 2 miles away from the Temple and across the Kidron valley from the city, was accessible yet also just distant enough to escape the influence of the temple crowd – the scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees. So, this week the home place for Jesus is Bethany.
By focusing on these days of Bethany Walk the Passion of Jesus, the one who loves, who offers transforming love, stands apart from the notion that Jesus’ Passion is only about suffering and death. This is to ask the question, “What lies underneath that which lies ahead?” Surely it is the case that Jesus’ love is that which lies underneath; that which serves as the motivation for and the foundation of his willingness to give his life. The love of Jesus, this passion, is his to share early in this week and that is precisely what we see on our walk.
After returning from the Temple, a visit that included cleaning it of the money changers, Jesus spends the night in Bethany only to return the following day. His walk with the disciples includes sharing parables that we hear at other times of the year, ones that take on special poignancy in this final week. They are familiar ones. There is the one about the property owner who sends his son to collect debts and who is killed in the process; another of the wedding banquet at which those who are not properly dressed are kicked out of the party. As difficult as these stories of rejection are to interpret it is clear, it seems to me, in this context of proximity to his death, that Jesus is giving a heads up message to the disciples. And the message is, “This is real.”
Which brings up another context for this week, one seemingly as powerful as Jesus showing the passion of his love. This other context is the drawing to a climax the plotting of religious leaders to eliminate this rube who comes from the country and who has gathered a following who question their ultimate authority. As the week progresses Jesus also makes the eventuality of this climax real. Read Chapter 23 of Matthew with its accusations and its woes; Jesus has distinct things to say about their hypocrisies. As one day follows another the forces of love and evil are engaged.
Jesus walks another day from Bethany to the city and tells anyone who would listen that he is hungry. He goes up to a fig tree that has no fruit and curses it for not being fruitful. The next day he passes the same tree and it is dead – seeming to pass along to the disciples the necessity of their being fruitful, productive of good fruit that nourishes both body and spirit.
The tension mounts, surely by now even the disciples are aware of the plots to get rid of their Teacher. Just imagine this daily walk increasing in size as the residents of Bethany and all those who have come to see the one who raised Lazarus accompany him to the city. Remember Passover preparations had already begun.
To these groups Jesus speaks in ways that envision the end times. He walks back to Bethany and laments the inevitable destruction of the Temple. (Haven’t we been told that the Romans could tolerate only so many disturbances from this outlier country?) He speaks of final calamities and of being prepared. He revisits the theme of, “This is real. Be ready.” in two additional parables that take on intense application when seen as part of this final week’s walks to Jerusalem. They are the messages to the ten bridesmaids lacking sufficient oil for their lamps, and to the servants who were given silver pieces to invest. The conclusion of each parable includes the exclusion of those who were not ready, not up to the task. As Jesus reminds the disciples, “What is happening is real; be ready for what is to come.” he returns to Bethany for dinner at the home of Simon the Leper.
As this week comes to its final confrontation Jesus concludes his teaching with a view on the final judgment. And this is what I love most about the lessons of our Bethany Walk. The Last Supper and all that leads up to and encompasses his Passion of suffering and death come into play. But, prior to these things there is a message that we can easily miss. It is hidden in the teaching on the final judgment. When those who are accepted into glory ask, “But when did we see you?” they are told, “As often as you did these good things to the least ones, you did it to me.”
Here is the message of the Passion of Love. Yes, Jesus takes on cosmic and universal status in the acts of Death and Resurrection, acts which in their implication can seem to make the Christ feel out of reach. Jesus also teaches that through all these plots and confrontations and world shattering events there is one thing we must keep in mind. “When you act for the least ones, you do it for Christ.”
Bethany Walk is an intimate calling forth of this relationship with Jesus. We walk along with him and receive words of encouragement, hope, and love. We acknowledge what is real as we stand ready to believe and to act on that belief regardless of fear of retribution. Finally, we share in this Passion of Love by acting for the least ones, because this is how we become Christ.
A Prayer for Palm Sunday (JR)
To begin this Holy Week, All-Holy and Righteous One, we walk with Jesus on the road from Bethany to Jerusalem. We devote this time to hear the Teacher’s words of encouragement and hope, of challenge, and of love. Our worship space is that temple of holiness in which we pray for forgiveness and reconciliation.
See these palms which we use for your glory, All-Holy and Merciful One. They are symbols of respect for the person of Jesus who invites us to walk with him on this journey to New Life. Bless these palms, so full of the memory of past Palm Sundays – full as well of the spiritual means to clear the cluttered pathways of our life today which separate us from your love.
We bless you who comes in the name of our God. Amen