Why do we group and categorize people? My Mom used to say, “You sleep with dogs, you get fleas.” I’m still not 100% sure, but I think that phrase means, if you spend time with people, outside observers will think you are like those people. You’ll be guilty by association even if you aren’t actually guilty.

What about being associated with Jesus? Would you want that label? I’m sure you’re thinking, “Yes, of course!”

What about during Jesus’ lifetime? Would you have been so willing then?

Matthew 26:6-13 /Mark 14:3-9 /John 12:1-11.

Many Bible scholars label Lazarus’ return to life (John 11) as the inciting incident for Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, but a couple of months passed between those two events. (You can check the chronology of Jesus’ life in a study Bible or commentary.) Unfortunately, those months did nothing to lessen the Pharisees’ hatred of Jesus. Matthew, Mark, and John all describe the situation with the Pharisees immediately before Simon throws a dinner party for Jesus. It’s clear, tensions were high.

Jesus enjoyed a small dinner
with friends in Bethany—a last
slow inhale before the whirlwind
of Jerusalem and His death.

At this point in His ministry, Jesus spent His days in an overcrowded Jerusalem and his nights in Bethany. On this particular night, we find Jesus enjoying a small dinner with friends in Bethany—a last slow inhale before the whirlwind of Jerusalem and His death. It’s like an Olympic diver’s pause before he plunges off the high platform: deep breath in through the nose, out through the mouth.

Jesus had quite a long to-do list as he reclined for dinner that night. I don’t know about you, but I probably would have spent the evening stressing out about all I needed to do, worrying about how I was going to handle the torture, trying to get Peter and the others to understand what was happening, etc. Let’s not miss Jesus’ example here. He prioritized people and relationships over plans and responsibilities. He was able to lay aside the things troubling Him and be fully present in the room with his friends. (I’m still working on this ability.)

In Dwell: Mary, Martha & Lazarus (the Bible study I’ve written), we spend a week in this room, watching Mary’s extravagant act of devotion. Today, however, let’s step back, look around, and think about what it meant for all these people to be present with Jesus on this particular night.

In Jesus’ culture, people ate at low tables, more like our coffee tables. They stretched out on the floor, propping themselves on an elbow to eat. This positioning gave Mary much easier access to Jesus’ feet. Mostly likely, only men sat around the table while the women ate in a different room. Not everyone in the room would have eaten. Some would have simply watched.

When we compile the three Gospel accounts, here’s who was present:

  • Jesus – guest of honor, unassuming enemy of the religious establishment
  • Simon the Leper – threw the party; had probably been healed by Jesus, though there’s no Biblical record
  • The disciples – around the table with Jesus
  • Lazarus – ate with the others; had been raised from the dead by Jesus
  • Martha – served the meal
  • Mary – poured/smeared some really expensive perfume on Jesus
  • Large crowd of Jews – stood around the edges of the room or peeked in through the windows (only mentioned in John)
  • Judas – disciple of Jesus, became indignant over Mary’s generosity, soon reported Jesus to the authorities

Consider this scene alongside John’s commentary.

Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who found out where Jesus was should report it so that they might arrest him. John 11:57

At least twenty-five people knew
exactly where Jesus was, and none
of them dashed the two miles back
to Jerusalem to inform on Him.

The Pharisees wanted to arrest Jesus. They ordered the people to report His whereabouts. Yet at least twenty-five people knew exactly where He was, and none of them dashed the two miles back to Jerusalem to inform on Jesus. (Judas, however, makes a deal with the Pharisees shortly after this [Mark 14:10-11].) Hmm…

Was there a bounty on Jesus’ head? I don’t know. In a different day and time, they would have made posters, “Wanted: Jesus of Nazareth—alive…so we can kill Him!” Perhaps those thirty pieces of silver—the ones Judas would later take—were the reward money. Okay, I’m going too far.

Everyone in the room was undeniably
guilty of associating with Jesus.

Because they attended this dinner party, every one of the people in the room was undeniably guilty of associating with Jesus, even the Jews on the fringes who didn’t like Him. Simon, the host, could have been accused of harboring a criminal.

What about you? Are you guilty by association? Paul said, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8)—just knowing Him. On the other hand, Paul told Titus (1:16) some people “claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him.”

These days, sadly, we will never get caught having a nice dinner with Jesus. Instead, our actions identify us with Jesus or deny His relevance in our lives.

Let’s think about the general pattern of our everyday lives in comparison to the people in the room with Jesus.

Simon had been healed by Jesus and converted his life into a party designed to honor Him.

Lazarus had been returned to life—literally.

The disciples had, in Peter’s words, “left everything to follow” Him (Matthew 19:27).

Mary lavished attention and gifts on Him.

Martha delighted in tangibly serving Him.

Then there’s the crowd of Jewish onlookers, hoping to see a miracle or gather a juicy story to embellish later, wanting the notoriety but not the commitment.

Here’s the question I ask myself:

On what level am I identified with Jesus?

Am I more like Simon and Lazarus or more like the fringe Jewish crowd? (I’ll share my answer at the end.)

Christians get called a lot of negative things (some of them justified!): self-righteous, judgmental, goody two-shoes, party-pooper. But no one ever says, “Gosh, I wish you wouldn’t act so much like Jesus!”

No one ever says, “Gosh, I wish you wouldn’t act so much like Jesus!” Embracing our guilt-by-association with Jesus. Are you ‘guilty’? My #selfidentity is #NotAboutMe via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

What about you? Where do you want to fall on this guilt-by-association rubric? My answer is below. I’d love to hear from you in the comments, if you have a minute to respond.

I want to be a sort of Lazarus-Martha blend: serving and quietly living the new life He has given me. (For some reason, I think Lazarus was an introvert. I have no biblical grounds for this. Still, Simon threw the party and Lazarus just attended.)

14 thoughts on “Guilt By Association

  1. Challenging. Would I REALLY have been so intent on hanging out with Jesus knowing He was being sought after? I’ll definitely need to ponder this awhile…Thanks, friend!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “He prioritized people and relationships over plans and responsibilities.” I’m still working on that one, too! I know my heart’s in the wrong place when I’m annoyed by an interruption in MY plan rather than looking at it as God fulfilling HIS plan.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I can easily be a Martha in many situations, and yet I can hear the sting of “Mary has the right idea” whispered in my ear when I get too busy with ‘work’ instead of my ‘association’ with Jesus!


    1. I know what you mean, Julie. For those of us who like to work and like to serve, the challenge becomes finding a way to work that draws us closer to Jesus rather than pushing us away. I think it’s possible, and this issue plays a big role in the full Bible study.


  4. “On what level am I identified with Jesus?” That’s a great question to ask ourselves. Jesus asks us to be “all in” when it comes to our relationship with Him, so you’re exactly right. How closely are we willing to walk beside Jesus when people are watching?

    Liked by 1 person

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