The last time Jesus was in Jerusalem, the Jewish leadership took offense at his words and tried to stone him to death.
The last time Jesus was in nearby Bethany, he created such a stir that those same leaders began worrying that Rome might respond with characteristic brutality. In their minds, Jesus left them with no choice; they had to kill him or risk being killed.
His disciples had known it was dangerous going back to Bethany, and had told him so. The miracle of raising Lazarus was shockingly glorious, but the resulting hoopla was drawing the kind of attention they had feared. They must have been relieved when Jesus at last suggested it was time to leave Bethany and go someplace more remote, somewhere quieter and safer.
And then, as Passover approached, Jesus announced his intention to go to Jerusalem, by way of Bethany.
They can’t have been surprised. There was no reason to suppose Jesus would shun trouble or controversy, nor that he would fail to make the pilgrimage as others were doing. But if they had been worried about returning to Bethany before, they had to be doubly worried now.
Indeed, John tells us, the chief priests and Pharisees had put the word out in Jerusalem: If you see this man, notify the authorities immediately (John 11:57). Everyone knew it. And whether people were inclined to rat Jesus out or not, they were at least curious to see what he would do. Those who had come to the temple were speculating in hushed tones: “What do you think? Surely he will not come to the festival, will he?” (vs. 56, NRSV). Surely not. It’s a way of saying that whatever else Jesus might be, he’s not stupid. The city is on high alert: why would he take the risk?
The disciples may have wondered the same thing.
In our risk-averse society, we can get insurance for just about anything. Home insurance. Auto insurance. Life insurance. Travel insurance. Protection plans for your new iPhone or toaster. You pay your money and play the odds: is the risk worth the cost of the policy?
The Jerusalem leadership had a calculus: avoiding the risk of reprisal from Rome was worth the life of one man.
The crowd of pilgrims had a calculus: whatever Jesus was trying to accomplish, surely he wouldn’t risk showing his face in Jerusalem.
The disciples probably had a calculus: Oh, no. Not again. Not now. Couldn’t we skip Passover just this one time?
And Jesus had a calculus. All for the Father. Everything in love. Earthly suffering on one side of the balance, eternity on the other.
When you think of it that way, some risks are worth it.