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

1. The kingdom and its message, 9:51-10:42

vi] 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. An expert in the law asked Jesus what he must do to gain eternal life, and by means of a parable, Jesus left him with an impossible requirement, that he 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, her 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 possessed in doing, but in receiving - in hearing and believing.


i] Context: See 9:51-56. Hearing the word of God serves as the final episode in a series of six covering the topic The kingdom and its message. In this section, Luke tells us that the message of the kingdom concerns deliverance, not judgement, and that gaining this deliverance must take priority in our life. The fifth episode, the parable of the Good Samaritan, 10:25-37, exposed the lost state of those who think they can claim "eternal life" on the basis of their own self-righteousness. Now, the sixth and final episode, the story of Martha and Mary, revels that "eternal life" is found at the feet of Jesus - hearing and believing.


ii] Structure: The importance of hearing Jesus:

Setting, v38-39:

Martha's complaint, v40:

Jesus' comment, v41-42:

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


iii] Interpretation:

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 sacred, between employment and meditation, laity and clergy ......, and this as if one is a higher, more appropriate service, to God. The proposition is less than convincing.

Commentators today usually draw a discipleship principle from the episode. Nolland's take 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." As Ellis puts it, "Don't let ordinary dinners spoil your appetite for the real dinner", that dinner being, "listening to the word", Fitzmyer.

All this is good advice, but Luke would have us read this incident with the parable of the Good Samaritan in mind. The religious scholar asked Jesus by what means he could "possess eternal life" - the reward of the righteous. Jesus points him to the Law, but as with most religious Jews of the time, his highly refined moral reductionism has allowed him to live with the false belief that he is faithful to the law, thus maintaining his covenant standing and the appropriation of the promised Abrahamic blessings. Jesus, by applying the prime function of the law to expose sin, explains love / mercy in all its perfection, 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 provided in the episode before us: only one thing is necessary, to hear (obviously a hearing that includes believing) Jesus. The promised blessings of the covenant are not for those who think they obey the law, but for those who, in faith, rest on the mercy of God. Martha's doing is all well and good, but it is a fussing over the wrong dinner. Mary had chosen the good portion at the feet of Jesus, and there is no way Jesus is going to take it away from her. We are saved by grace, through faith, apart from works of the law.


iv] Synoptics:

See 3:1-20.. This episode / pericope is peculiar to Luke, although Martha and Mary are mentioned together in John's gospel. The source is probably the general oral tradition of the early Christian church that existed at the time of writing, a source available to all gospel authors, although it is usually identified as L, ie., tradition from Luke's own source.


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. i] 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 possibly 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.

de "-" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step in the narrative.

en tw/ + inf. "as" - in the = while [them to go = they went]. This construction introduces a temporal clause expressing contemporaneous time; the present tense = "while". "Them", autouV, serves as the accusative subject of the infinitive. "In the course of their Journey", Barclay.

eiV + acc. "to" - [he entered] into [a certain village, and a certain woman]. Spatial, expressing the direction of the action, and arrival at. The village is undefined, but possibly Bethany, Jn.11:1, and the woman, "Martha", is the mistress of the home.

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

uJpedexato (uJpodecomai) aor. "opened her home to" - received [him]. A variant exists 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."


The answer to the question "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" is found "at the Lord's feet listening to what he says", ie., willingly submitting to Jesus and giving attention to his word.

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

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

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

h} "who" - [and] who. Nominative subject of the verb "to hear." This relative pronoun serves to further emphasise what follows, although its textual authority is questionable; "who actually sat at the Lord's feet listening ...."

parakaqesqeisa (parakaqezomai) aor. pas. part. "sat" - having sat beside [toward the feet of the lord]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the main verb "to hear", "who seated herself at the feet of the Lord and listened to what he said", but possibly adverbial, temporal, "who while sitting ...." The passive expresses 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, listening to. Imperfect indicating ongoing 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 who, instead of helping, is listening to Jesus.

periespato (prispaw) imperf. "was distracted" - [but/and martha] was being pulled about = worried, busy, overburdened, distracted. 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 to. Expressing reference / respect; "Martha was distracted with respect to much service = with much serving."

diakonian (a) acc. "preparations" - [much] 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] having come to, stepped up to [she said, lord]. 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]. This negation in a question assumes a positive answer.

soi dat. pro. "you [care]" - to you. Dative of direct object after the verb melei, "concern, care."

oJti "that" - that. Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of perception, expressing 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" - [the sister of me] left, forsook [me alone]. 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. Note that monhn, "alone", serves as the accusative complement of the direct object "me" standing in a double accusative construction.

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

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

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

iJna + subj. "to" - that [she may help me]. This construction may serve to introduce a purpose clause, "in order that she may give assistance to me", but it may also serve to introduce 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 Martha 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, she has sought to divert Mary from the gospel as well.

Jesus' words are not overly clear, but the sense is probably something like this: "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 gospel and so has chosen 'the best dish'. She has made a choice that guarantees eternal life."

apokriqeiV (apokrinomai) aor. pas. part. "answered" - [but/and the lord] having answered [said to her, martha, martha]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "said", redundant, so "answered and said" = either "answered", or "said"; apokriqeiV, 1:19. Note the used of repetition (epanadiplosis) for "Martha", in order to issue a slight rebuke.

merimnaV (merimnaw) pres. "you are worried" - you are worried, anxious, concerned, fretting. Often used to express an excessive concern about worldly things. As for "troubled", the present tense, being durative, expresses ongoing action.

qorubazh/ (qorubazw) pres. pas. "upset" - [and] 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" - about [many things]. Expressing reference / respect; "about, concerning many things."


enoV de estin creia "but one thing is needed / but one thing is needed [- or indeed only one]" - but/and one thing 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 stronger textual support, has the unsimplified oligwn de estin creia h eJnoV "but few things are needed, or rather one only", RSVmg. NEBmg, as NIV11. A figurative sense being: "A few dishes for a meal is good, but really one is enough." Nolland's take on the phrase is "for a meal a few things will do; for one's salvation the word of God is the necessary thing." 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. 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, so Culy, Nolland, but causal may be intended, "because"; "Martha should therefore follow the example of Mary and get her priorities right. For Mary has chosen the better part", Marshall. .

agaqhn adj. "[what is] better" - [mary chose] the good [part, share]. "The right portion", TH. properly translates this positive adjective, although it is often translated as a comparative, as NIV, or even a superlative, "best", NET. Figuratively, "the main meal", Peterson.

ouk afaireqhsetai (afairew) fut. pas. "will not be taken away" - [which] 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, a secret which derives from the words of Jesus (= faith in Christ), produces a guaranteed result. "It will never be taken away from her", NCV.

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


Luke Introduction


Exegetical Commentaries


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