“Then [Jesus] entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.” (Mark 11:11, NRSV)
As many times as I've read Mark's telling of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, verse 11 has never stood out to me until recently. After the crowd gathered along the road lauded Jesus with shouts of "Hosanna!," laid their garments across the road in a red carpet-like line, and waved palm branches to honor the One they assumed would be their liberator, Jesus makes his way to the temple. It's late in the day, so the temple is quiet as if resting from a busy day of preparations for the grand celebration of Passover. Jesus looks around at nothing in particular, but since there was nothing much going on, he and the twelve disciples head out to Bethany.
Bethany is probably a reference to the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, who were Jesus' closest friends. He frequently spent time in their home when he was near Jerusalem, as it was only approximately two miles away. Mark fails to give us any details about what he did that evening; however, we know the next day Jesus returns to the temple where he "cleanses" the temple of the money changers and the merchants. Lacking any specific knowledge of his evening in Bethany allows us to speculate.
I imagine when Jesus arrived in Bethany with the twelve, the disciples were still pumped about the events of the day. They were excited by the crowd's response as he entered Jerusalem and how his royal reception served as a sign that the people were ready to anoint him as their Messiah. In the minds of the disciples, it would only be a matter of days before Jesus would drive the dreaded Romans from the Holy Land, and God's kingdom would materialize, ending the oppression.
I imagine Jesus was much more reserved and cautious about the events of the day. Going to Bethany was a way for him to stay grounded as he interacted with the three people who knew him best. The disciples' energy and anticipation were countered by Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, who had concern for Jesus' wellbeing. Living so close to Jerusalem, they knew of the anger of the religious leaders who despised Jesus. Some said when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, an event only recorded in John's gospel but not Mark's, the Pharisees became so angry at this miracle that they began plotting to kill Jesus. The three siblings would have been well aware of this fact and maybe even felt some responsibility for threat against Jesus.
I also imagine when Jesus and the twelve arrived, Martha immediately began to pull some food together for dinner. Lazarus and Mary gathered water and towels to use in washing the feet of their guests who had been traveling all day on the dusty roads. Listening to the laughter and joy of the disciples over Jesus' triumphal entry, yet sensing the gravity of what possibly lay ahead, and intuiting Jesus' determination to be faithful to his Father no matter what, Jesus' friends knew their role was to be close to Jesus and to care for him in the best way possible. Jesus knew they were trustworthy in that delicate time, and they did not fail him.
Thanks be to God for those who know us best and care for us in uncertain times, for they are our true friends!