Social scientists have constructed a set of concentric circles to illustrate the different layers of relationships we all have. Models vary, but generally, they look like this: we’re in the center circle, surrounded by a circle labeled: “people we love.” That circle is surrounded by a circle labeled “friends” or “people who like me.” That circle is surrounded by “people we transact with.” The inner-most circle, or our “inner circle” as we often call it, is populated with the people we spend the most time with, trust the most and care about the most. Hopefully, they feel the same way about us. Have you ever considered who Jesus’ inner circle was during His time on earth? The 12 apostles, right? Or was it? There are two significant events in Jesus’ life that occur shortly before His crucifixion that point to others who belong in the inner circle as well.

The exact timing is unknown, but sometime shortly before His death, Jesus raised His dear friend Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary, lived in Bethany, about two miles from Jerusalem. When Lazarus became ill, the sisters got word to Jesus, telling Him that “the one He loves” is very sick. But we don’t know how they did that. For the sisters to have the ability to relay the information so quickly to Jesus (quickly for that time) suggests Jesus had let them know how they could reach Him.

And when Jesus intentionally delays going to Bethany so glory could be given to God when Jesus raised him from the dead, the sympathy He feels for the grieving sisters practically pours off the pages of the Bible. After Jesus weeps, He prays to God the Father and Lazarus walks out of his grave. It appears that Jesus then spent the days between Palm Sunday and His execution living with the trio. That period included this moment:

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.  John 12:1-3 (NIV)

Now, contrast that with the concentric circles around Jesus when he triumphantly arrives in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday:

  • The 12 Apostles & Jesus’ Disciples
  • The “Jesus Curious”
  • Jews from all over
  • The religious establishment

Yes, the 12 knew and loved Him (excluding Judas, apparently), but it appears none of them knew and understood him the way Mary did, based on her actions with the nard. And many in the crowd that Palm Sunday obviously had no clue who He was. Many thought He was a conquering military leader who would vanquish the occupying Romans, not the Son of God who came to free them from the tyranny of sin. In fact, virtually everyone in Jerusalem, even some of the 12 apostles to some degree, saw their relationship with Jesus as transactional. But not Martha, Mary and Lazarus. They knew exactly who He was and loved Him unconditionally.

And consider the origin of the name “Bethany,” where Jesus stayed during His last week on earth:

Bethany: Bethania– “House of Ananiah [or the poor or unripe figs]”– (NIV Exhaustive Concordance Dictionary. Copyright © 2015 by Zondervan.) Or this: Hebrew: Beitania-house of the poor.

Jesus was always most comfortable around the “less thans.” When the adoring throngs realized Jesus wasn’t who or what they thought He was, they turned on Him quickly. In just days they went from “Hosannah in the Highest,” to “crucify Him!” Not so the sisters and their brother. They loved Him and fully understood Him to the end. Jesus appeared most comfortable in the low-income neighborhood of Bethany.

So, which circle are we in? The Bethany circle or the Jerusalem circle? Do we know and love Jesus for who He is and not what He has done for us, is doing for us or what we think He will do for us? When it comes to those who have allowed us into their circles, are we in a Jerusalem circle or a Bethany circle with them? Are we as comfortable in the Bethany circle as Jesus was?

It is something altogether appropriate to ponder as we work through this Easter Week.

 — Pastor Jerry Bader

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