Saturday, December 20, 2014

Mark, A Meal, A Leper & The Kingdom Of God (part 4)

This account of Jesus dining at the house of Simon the leper provides a bit more detail.  Here, the reader is informed that “six days before Passover,” (thus answering the question as to whether or not Jesus had adequate time to complete purification rituals before celebrating Passover---so Jesus (the Messiah) went to the cross in a state of ritual impurity, and the early church was unconcerned with this aspect of the story, though it would have certainly attributed to the scandalous, stumbling-block nature of the message of Jesus) “Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom He has raised from the dead.  So they prepared a dinner for Jesus there.  Martha was serving, and Lazarus was among those present at the table with Him” (John 12:1-2). 

If one did not have the stories of Matthew and Mark, when reading this story in John it would be possible to get the sense that Jesus is dining in the house of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary.  If He was doing so, that would be quite understandable.  Lazarus had, quite naturally, become famous.  Many people, as John reports few verses later, came to this house to see both Jesus and Lazarus (12:9).  Not only that, there are indications that the family may have had some wealth, and therefore may have been an honored family within the community, with that indication being the fact that Mary had the costly perfume with which to anoint Jesus, and the fact that the gathered guests make mention of “the poor,” with the words themselves ringing out and serving as an indication of the dichotomy that existed between the poor and those that were joining Jesus at this meal.  However, this meal is not taking place at the house of the now-famous-and-potentially-wealthy Lazarus, but rather, at the house of Simon the leper.       

In the ancient world, it was customary for a community to receive a famous and honored individual into their midst with great pomp and ceremony.  Often, a delegation from the community would go outside their town, meet the arriving person of prominence, and accompany them back to their locale.  This is referred to as a “parousia”.  There are several examples of parousia in the life of Jesus, and even one when He goes to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead.  There is no record of Jesus being received in this way upon this visit to Bethany, but one can imagine that such an event took place, as His fame could only have grown as Lazarus continued to live amongst the people. 

As a part of the reception, there would be a determination made as to which member or family of the community was the most worthy and important individual, in the best position to accept the dignitary into their house, most capable of reflecting favorably on the larger community so as to give the best possible impression to the honored guest, and able to bring honor to the whole of the community in the process.  As was said, it would have been a natural choice, owing to previous events, for Lazarus to host Jesus in Bethany.  The fact that Jesus loved Lazarus and His sisters would have contributed to this more than natural arrangement.  However, it is Simon the leper that receives the honor of hosting a meal for Jesus. 

Whether this is the choice of the community or Jesus’ choice one is left to wonder, but what is clear is that one who would normally be marginalized and even ostracized in the community for a variety of reasons is the one that has this honor.  If the story of Zaccheus (as a prime example of Jesus choosing His own host) is any indication, it is likely that it is Jesus that has made the choice of meal location, but it is not something about which one can be dogmatic. 

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