Bethany: The House of True Obedience

As we begin Holy Week, we are given a story that is based on the Jewish Sabbath (we know this because St. John tells us the day was six days before Passover).  Now as good Jews, Jesus and his disciples were obedient to the commands of the Sabbath.  The obedience of following the Sabbath, then, coincides also with the obedience of Christ to begin his passion and suffer for the restoration of all things.

It is appropriate that all this obedience happens in a house in Bethany, for Bethany literally means “house of obedience.”  To gain the fruit of Christ’s passion namely “our light and our salvation”, as today’s psalm reminds us, requires obedience to him.  Martha cultivates “a house of obedience” by serving the Lord supper to refresh him.  Her hospitality is especially refreshing to the Lord spiritually, for, as our first reading from Isaiah tells us, an obedient servant is pleasing to God.  How, then, are we pleasing the Lord by obedient service?         Lazarus’ contribution to the “house of obedience,” as one recently raised from the dead, is to present to us that those who are spiritually dead are raised to life and restored on the path toward righteousness thanks to obedience. What areas of our lives do we need to recognize as being spiritually dead and so offer them to the Lord in the house of obedience?

Of all the characters of our Gospel today, Mary of Bethany is central to the illustration of true obedience.  Mary anointing Jesus shows a recognition that in him is the servant that is to suffer and die, as Isaiah mentions in the first reading.  Even the fact that the ointment is one pound is significant, because it mystically represents the work of justice and mercy that pleases the Lord in the “house of obedience.”              

Justice, as a virtue, is intimately connected to obedience. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that four virtues must be added to make justice perfect: compassion, humility, faith and charity.  All four of these are represented in the act of Mary anointing our Lord. Compassion, shown in the ointment itself; Humility, shown in the small herb nard; Faith, shown in the ointment’s purity; Charity, shown in the ointment’s value.  In light of this how do we show perfect justice in the house of obedience?

In contrast to Martha, Lazarus and Mary, Judas’ behavior in Bethany reveals his false obedience.  We know that he is not really concerned for the poor; he really is only concerned with himself and the money.  The selfishness and avarice of Judas deafen him to the service the Lord is calling him to. Do we ever perform deeds of good works in a self-righteous way and judge others accordingly?

May we make it our prayer this Holy Week to continue to build a “house of obedience” in our lives.  May we pray unceasingly for the grace to grow in mercy, justice, compassion, humility, faith and charity. May it transform us into the obedient servants, that truly please our Lord, meriting for us the fruit of Christ’s passion, an abundance of light and salvation.