The teachings of Messiah, 9:51-19:44

1. The meaning and acceptance of the kingdom message, 9:51-10:42

vi] Importance of hearing the word of God


The story of Jesus' visit to the home of Martha follows on immediately from the parable of the Good Samaritan. The lawyer had asked Jesus what he must do to gain eternal life and by means of a parable Jesus had left him with an impossible requirement, to love as the good Samaritan loved. We now witness Martha distracted with loving care toward Jesus, a special guest in her home. While she rushes around serving her guests, Mary, here sister, is sitting at the feet of Jesus hanging on his every word. Against Martha's protests, Jesus makes the point that Mary has chosen the good portion and it will not be taken from her.


Eternal life is not gained in the doing, but in the receiving - in hearing and believing.


i] Context: See 9:51-56. The importance of hearing the word of God serves as the final episode in a series of six covering the topic the meaning and acceptance of the kingdom message. The fifth episode, the parable of the Good Samaritan, 10:25-37, exposes the lost state of those who think they can claim "eternal life" on the basis of their own self righteousness. The sixth episode, the story of Martha and Mary, revels that "eternal life" is possessed by listening and responding to the gospel.


ii] Structure: This passage, The importance of hearing the word of God / Hearing Jesus, presents as follows:

Setting, v38-39:

Martha's complaint, v40:

Jesus comment, v41-42:

"one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen what is better ....."


iii] Interpretation:

Nolland's take on this passage is quite pointed: "The one who loves God is taken up with his word and this is received by listening to Jesus. Even when apparently given over to service of the kingdom of God, preoccupation with the practical affairs of life easily seduce one away from wholehearted attention to the things of God." Danker's title for this passage distills this idea well: "One Thing is Needful."

Sadly, from patristic times up to the present, there has been a tendency to draw a comparison between Martha's service and Mary's service, between the secular and the spiritual/sacred, between employment and meditation, laity and clergy ......, and this as if one is a higher, more appropriate service, to God. Yet really, Martha's hospitality is not the problem, but her fussing certainly is. Ellis puts it well when he paraphrases Jesus' gentle rebuke, "don't let ordinary dinners spoil your appetite for the real dinner."

This passage, which identifies "the one thing necessary", namely "listening to the word", Fitzmyer, perfectly offsets the parable of the Good Samaritan. The religious scholar asked by what means he could secure eternal standing before God; he asked how to "possess eternal life .. ?" Jesus points him to the law, but as with most religious Jews of the time, his highly refined moral reductionism had allowed him to live with the false belief that he was faithful to the law, thus maintaining his covenant standing and the appropriation of the promised Abrahamic blessings. Jesus, applying the prime function of the law to expose sin, properly explains what loving one's neighbor entails, thus removing from the scholar all claim to self-righteousness. Who can love like the Samaritan? Who can "go and do likewise?" So, the question remains, "what must I do to possess eternal life?" The answer is simple, only one thing is necessary, to hear (obviously a hearing that includes believing) Jesus. The promised blessings of the covenant are for those who hear and believe the gospel. Mary had chosen the good portion and there was no way Jesus was going to take it away from her.


iv] Synoptics:

This episode / pericope is peculiar to Luke although Martha and Mary are mentioned together in John's gospel. The source is usually identified as L, ie., tradition from Luke's own source, probably oral.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 10:38

The one thing that is necessary, v38-42. Setting, v38-39: Turning aside from their travels, Jesus and his disciples are invited to stay at the home of a woman named Martha. It is most probably the home of the sisters Mary and Martha who lived at Bethany, a village just outside Jerusalem. Luke doesn't give us the name of the village, because he wants us to see Jesus continuing on his journey toward Jerusalem. The situation, described by Luke, is most likely a meal where Jesus is reclining on a bench with his feet away from the table. Mary would then be sitting at Jesus' feet. This was the normal posture for a Rabbi's disciple, although the unusual aspect here is that the disciple is a woman. Women would not normally be privileged to sit under the instruction of a Rabbi.

en tw/ + inf. "as [Jesus and his disciples were on their way]" - while [they went]. This construction forms a temporal clause expressing contemporaneous time; the present tense = "while". "In the course of their Journey", Barclay.

tina .... tiV "-" - It was a "certain" village with a "certain" woman. The village is undefined, but presumably Bethany, Jn.11:1, and the woman "Martha" = mistress of the home. Luke obviously doesn't mention Bethany as it would disturb his motif of Jesus travelling toward Jerusalem.

onomati (a atoV) dat. "named [Martha]" - Dative of reference / respect; "with respect to her name = named."

uJpedexato (uJpodecomai) aor. "opened her home [to him]" - received him. Variants exist were the obvious "into her home" is supplied, although Plummer suggests that eiV thn oikehn is original. "Invited him as a guest into her home."


Mary's response to Jesus again illustrates the response necessary for the gaining /retaining of "eternal life" - an attentive hearing of Christ's word.

kai "-" - and. Here indicating a second person in the house so, "also, she had a sister."

th/de (oJde) dat. pro. "she [had a sister]" - to this one [was a sister]. The rarest of the three demonstrative pronouns used in the NT., is anticipatory of what follows and serves to give weight to it; dative of possession. "Now this particular woman had a sister, ...."

kaloumenh (kalew) pres. pas. part. "called" - having been named. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "a sister", "who was called ..." "Named Mary", CEV., cf. John 12.

h} "who" - This relative pronoun serves to further emphasize what follows, although its textual authority is questionable; "who actually sat at the Lord's feet ...."

parakaqesqeisa (parakaqezomai) aor. pas. part. "sat" - having sat beside. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the main verb "was listening"; "who seated herself at the feet of the Lord and listened to what he said." The passive expressing reflexive action, "she sat herself beside", she took the initiative. Sitting beside the feet of a teacher for the purpose of instruction is a typical pose, but certainly not for a woman. In pious circles it would be improper for a woman to take instruction with men.

hkouen (akouw) imperf. "listened" - was hearing. Imperfect indicating onoing listening; "stayed there listening to his words", REB.

autou gen. pro. "[what] Jesus [said]" - [the word] of him. The NIV has taken the genitive as verbal, subjective, but ablative, source/origin, or adjectival, possessive, are possible. "Listened to his teaching", Berkeley.


ii] Martha's complaint, v40: Martha rightly offers hospitality toward her guests, but she is fussed by the burden and feels wronged by her sister because she is not helping in the necessary household tasks.

periespato (prispaw) imperf. "was distracted" - was being worried, busy, overburdened. Lit. "pulled about." Possibly, "Martha was pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen", Peterson, even "burdened", NAB, but the more figurative sense is likely", "distracted", as NIV, NJB; "was drawn about in different directions", Plummer.

peri acc. "by" - around / about / with regard. Expressing reference / respect; "Martha was distracted with respect to much service = with much serving."

diakonian (a) "preparations" - service, ministry. A strong positive word; probably used by Luke to deflect negative criticism of Martha's "service".

epistasa (efisthmi) aor. part. "she came to him [and said]" - having come to, stepped up to. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the main verb "said"; "she came to him and said", REB. Expressing "impatient movement", Plummer; "stepte unto him", Coverdale.

ou "don't" - [is it of] no [concern to you]. The negation assumes a positive answer.

soi dat. pro. "you [care]" - [is it of no concern] to you. Dative of direct object after the verb melei.

oJti "that" - Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of perception, identifying the content of what is supposedly of no concern to Jesus; "is it of no concern to you that my sister has left me to serve alone."

kateleipen (kataleipw) imperf. "has left [me]" - left, forsook [me]. The imperfect expressing continued action, although UBS4 has the aorist, Nestle imperf. If imperfect, the sense is that Mary, from the outset of Jesus' visit to them, has not assisted Martha in offering practical assistance to their guests.

diakonein (diakonew) pres. inf. "to do the work" - to serve. The infinitive is probably verbal, expressing result; "so that I have to serve alone."

monhn "by myself" - alone. Object complement.

oun "-" - therefore. Inferential / drawing a logical conclusion.

auth/ dat. pro. "[tell] her" - [say] to her. Dative of indirect object.

iJna + subj. "to [help me]" - that [she may help me]. Possibly forming a purpose clause, "in order that she may give assistance to me", but better classified as introducing a dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what Jesus should tell Mary; "tell her to give me a hand", Barclay.


iii] Jesus' response, v41-42: Jesus gives Martha a gentle rebuke. This may seem unfair, as Martha is struggling to serve her Lord in her own way. Ellis paraphrases the rebuke this way: "don't let ordinary dinners spoil your appetite for the real dinner." Jesus is not rebuking her for choosing a practical form of ministry, a secular ministry over a spiritual one, but rather he is rebuking her for allowing her busyness to distract her from hearing the gospel. Worse still, Martha has sought to divert Mary from the gospel as well. The sense of Jesus' words in v42 is something like, "I only need a few things for my meal so you don't need to fuss and put on a big deal, on the other hand, you need only one thing, for when it comes to a person's salvation, hearing and believing the gospel is the only necessary thing. As for Mary, she has chosen what is better; she has seen the priority of the Word of God and so has chosen 'the best dish' (Moffatt). She has made a choice that guarantees eternal life."

Marqa Marqa voc. "Martha, Martha" - Repetition (epanadiplosis) used as a slight censure.

apokriqeiV (apokrinomai) aor. pas. part. "answered" - [the Lord] having answered [said]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "said", so "answered and said" = either "answered", or "said".

auth/ dat. pro. "-" - to her. Dative of indirect object.

merimnaV (merimnaw) pres. "you are worried" - you are worried, anxious, concerned, fretting. Often used to express an excessive concern about worldly things.

qorubazh/ (qorubazw) pres. pas. "upset" - troubled, distracted, agitated. Variant turbazh, being the more difficult reading, is possibly original, but it means the same. "You are fretting and fussing about so many things", REB.

peri + acc. "about [many things]" - Expressing reference / respect; "about, concerning many things."


de "but" - but, and. Here adversative.

enoV de estin creia "but one thing is needed" - but one is necessary. The textual support for this reading is not strong, but it does make the point clearly and is followed by most translations; "one thing only is essential", Peterson; ie. submission to Jesus' words. One suspects though, that it is the product of copyists who were unhappy with the original clutter of the verse and sought to simplify it. Nestle, following strong textual support, has the unsimplified oligwn de estin creia h eJnoV "but few things are needed, or rather one", RSVmg. NEBmg. "A few dishes for the meal is good, but really one is enough", the point being, "for a meal a few things will do; for one's salvation the word of God is the necessary thing", Nolland. The longer reading could be a conflation of two separate readings, "one thing is needful" and "a few things are needful", although we are still best served with the longer reading. Without an interpretive paraphrase, the longer reading is next to meaningless, eg. "and yet few are needed, indeed only one", NJB.

eJnoV gen. adj. "one thing / one" - The genitive is usually treated as verbal, objective. The one thing, the necessary thing, is "the good portion chosen by Mary" = "the teachings of Jesus", Marshall.

gar "-" - for. Here inferential rather than causal.

agaqhn adj. "[what is] better" - the good [part, share]. Possibly "the right portion", TH. "The main meal", Peterson.

ouk afaireqhsetai (afairew) fut. pas. "[it] will not be taken away" - Possibly "it cannot be taken away from her", Danker, ie. the blessing already bestowed by the word. Yet, we are better to take the future tense as eschatological = the right portion that will not be taken away from here in the day of judgment. That "portion" is not her hearing of Jesus, but obviously what she has heard and believed. She has discovered the secret of how "to inherit eternal life" in the teachings of Jesus, and that secret, resting on the words of Jesus (= faith in Christ) produces a guaranteed result. "It will never be taken away from her", NCV.

authV gen. pro. "from here" - of her. The genitive is ablative, of separation; "away from her."


Luke Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]