The Mission of the Seventy-Two, 1-24

10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him two by two into every town and place where he himself was about to go.

Only Luke records that, in addition to the sending out of the twelve, Lk 9:1-6, Jesus also sent out this larger group.  In neither case are we told how long the mission lasted, or exactly where they were sent.  Luke is much more interested in the teaching which it stimulated.  He also wants us to know that missionary activity was not restricted to the inner circle of disciples, and this prepares us for the post-resurrection worldwide mission of the church.

‘The three scenes in Luke 10 illustrate the threefold ministry of every Christian believer, and they answer the question, “What in the world does a Christian do?” To begin with, we are the Lord’s ambassadors, sent to represent him in this world. (Lk 10:1-24) we are also neighbors, looking for opportunities to show mercy in the name of Christ. (Lk 10:25-37) But at the heart of all our ministry is devotion to Christ, so we must be worshipers who take time to listen to his Word and commune with him. (Lk 10:38-42) Whether we are in the harvest field, on the highway, or in the home, our highest privilege and our greatest joy is to do the will of God.’ (Wiersbe)

Seventy-two – Some mss give the number as seventy.  In either case, we are reminded of the elders who helped Moses in Ex 24:1.  Although they probably only visited Jewish locations, there is a flavour of a universal mission here, and consequently a recollection of the table of nations in Gen 10.

Two by two – For mutual support and confirmation of their witness, Deut 19:15.  Two witnesses would have been required for the verdict mentioned in Lk 10:9-15.

They were sent ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go – This is a general, rather than specific, description of their itinerary.  We do not have to assume that they, and Jesus, visited 36 separate locations on their way to Jerusalem.

10:2 He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest. 10:3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs surrounded by wolves. 10:4 Do not carry a money bag, a traveler’s bag, or sandals, and greet no one on the road. 10:5 Whenever you enter a house, first say, ‘May peace be on this house!’ 10:6 And if a peace-loving person is there, your peace will remain on him, but if not, it will return to you. 10:7 Stay in that same house, eating and drinking what they give you, for the worker deserves his pay. Do not move around from house to house. 10:8 Whenever you enter a town and the people welcome you, eat what is set before you. 10:9 Heal the sick in that town and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come upon you!’ 10:10 But whenever you enter a town and the people do not welcome you, go into its streets and say, 10:11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this: The kingdom of God has come.’ 10:12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town!

Lk 10:4–12pp—Lk 9:3–5

“Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest” – ‘Though all depends on God, he accomplishes his work by human means.’ (Hendriksen, who then asks: ‘Does this amount to saying, “God has no hands but our hands”?’)

The instructions they are given are very similar to those given to the twelve, Lk 9:1-6.  They were to travel lightly, and to live simply.

“‘Peace to this house”‘ – A simple greeting, in contrast to the more elaborate oriental greetings.

“A man of peace” – lit. ‘a son of peace’, i.e. a man characterised by peace.

They were to accept whatever simple hospitality was offered and not go from house to house seeking a better offer.  The practice of hospitality towards Christian ministers and missionaries is reflected in 3 Jn 7f; 1 Cor 9:14; 1 Tim 5:18.

More bearable on that day for Sodom – ‘The Jews regarded the heathen towns of old as absolutely godless. To say that they would have given a warmer response to the gospel than these Jewish towns is a way of saying just how blind the Jews were to the gospel; their pride would experience a swift downfall.’ (NBC)

10:13 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 10:14 But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon in the judgment than for you! 10:15 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be thrown down to Hades!

Lk 10:13–15,21,22pp—Mt 11:21–23,25–27

Korazin – a town north of Capernaum.

Lifted up to the skies…go down to the depths – Evans thinks that this is an allusion to Isa 14:13,15.  See note on v18.

10:16 “The one who listens to you listens to me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
10:17 Then the seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name!” 10:18 So he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 10:19 Look, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions and on the full force of the enemy, and nothing will hurt you. 10:20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names stand written in heaven.”
‘In his name’

‘Jesus’ disciples prophesied “in his name” (Mt. 7:22), cast out demons “in his name” (Lk. 10:17), performed miracles “in his name” (Mk. 9:39), etc. With the use of this expression it becomes evident that the disciples spoke and acted like Jesus, in His place and with His authority, as did the prophets of Yahweh in the OT (see Acts 4:7–10). Similarly, the gospel is to be preached in all the world “in his name,” i.e., by His authority, and thus be made effectual to save people (Lk. 24:47), justify sinners (Acts 10:43), and forgive people their sins (1 Jn. 2:12).’

G.W. Hawthorne, ISBE (2nd ed.), art. ‘Name’

“I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” – The meaning could either be “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning”; or, “I saw Satan fall like lightning-from-heaven.” Stein (NAC) thinks that the former is more probable.  Either way, the emphasis is on the suddenness, rather than the brightness, of the fall.

Stein: ‘In the exorcisms of the seventy(-two), Jesus saw Satan’s defeat resulting from his coming.’

Garland argues that the success of the disciples in casting out demons should be understood as ‘the beginning of the complete overthrow of Satan’s rule.’

Godet (cited by Hendriksen): ‘[Jesus meant] While you were expelling the subordinates [the demons] I was seeing the master [Satan] fall.’ Hendriksen adds that the success of the disciples should be understood as one example of many similar events that would take place.

Evans thinks that this is ‘certainly’ an allusion to Isa 14:12, which is often understood as referring to a primeval expulsion of Satan from heaven.  Although Gen 6:1-14 is often recruited in support of this view, the imagery connected to it has more to do with Milton that with Scripture.  Moreover, a reference to such a primeval expulsion makes little sense in context.

Rather, Jesus is saying that in the expelling of the demons (Satan’s subordinates) he saw the ultimate overthrow of Satan himself.  See also Mt 12:27; Jn 12:31f.

Harris (Navigating Tough Texts) – ‘I was watching Satan fall from heaven, like lightning’.  Harris thinks that a connection with Isa 14:12 is ‘unlikely because this verse is part of the taunt-song against the king of Babylon (Isa 14:4–21).’  Rather this verse should be understood in the light of the verse immediately preceding, which records the disciple’s claim that demons were subject to them.  The driving out of demons was a sign of Satan’s ultimate defeat.

It is not clear (according to Harris) whether Jesus’ words (‘I was watching’) reflect an actual vision.

‘He appears to have been speaking metaphorically. He had a vision of the spiritual defeat of Satan which took place at the cross; and the exorcisms, the defeat of Satan’s minions, confirmed his certainty of the coming victory over their master. (See Rev. 12:7–10.)’ (NBC)

Rev 12:9 – ‘That huge dragon—the ancient serpent, the one called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world—was thrown down to the earth, and his angels along with him. ‘

‘When Jesus speaks of seeing Satan’s fall from heaven he is not thinking of an event in the remote past. He is thinking of the effect of his ministry at the time. He had sent out seventy of his disciples to spread the announcement that the kingdom of God had drawn near, and now they had come back from their mission in great excitement. “Why,” they said, “even the demons are subject to us in your name!” To this Jesus replied, “I watched how Satan fell, like lightning, out of the sky” (NEB). It is implied that he was watching for this when suddenly, like a flash of lightning, it happened; Satan plummeted—whether to earth or down to the abyss is not said.’ (HSB)

“I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions and on the full force of the enemy, and nothing will hurt you” – Snakes and scorpions symbolise the forces of evil, Gen 3:15; Deut 8:15; Ps 91:13.

Morris agrees that this saying should ‘probably’ be taken figuratively, rather than literally.  He adds ‘there is no record of a Christian preacher treading on literal snakes or scorpions without taking harm (though once Paul escaped when a viper fastened on his arm, Acts 28:3–5).’

Garland, similarly: ‘Jesus is using these as metaphors for God’s divine protection (Deut 8:15) and for crushing evil; “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom 16:20).’

‘The downfall of Satan may be regarded as the decisive victory in the campaign; the campaign itself goes on. Hence Jesus’ further words to the exultant disciples: “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions, and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you” (Lk 10:19).  The “snakes and scorpions” represent the forces of evil; thanks to the work of Christ, his people can trample them underfoot and gain the victory over them. The imagery may be borrowed from Psalm 91:13, where those who trust in God are promised that they “will tread upon the lion and the cobra.”‘ (HSB)

Snakes and scorpions are apt symbols of the domain of Satan, given his intention to poison minds and impart the sting of death to those who oppose him.  (Hendriksen)

v20 ‘A cosmic battle is in place with the gospel. That battle is being waged yet today, though the question of victory was decided on Calvary’s cross. What we see in the seventy-two are the first moments of triumph, much like D-Day was for the allies during World War II. The war lasted long after that battle, but the outcome was essentially decided in those first few days. Our ministry for Christ plays out that cosmic struggle, and we rejoice and share Jesus because in him rests the truth that allows one’s name to be found in the Book of Life.’ (Bock)

The book of life

G.W. Hawthorne notes that ‘expressions such as “your names are written in heaven” (Lk. 10:20), “whose names are in the book of life” (Phil. 4:3), “whose name has not been written … in the book of life” (Rev. 13:8), and “I will not blot his name out of the book of life” (Rev. 3:5), crop up several times within the NT. The figure is taken from the OT (cf. Isa. 4:3; Ezk. 13:9; Dan. 12:1), or from the secular world where a criminal’s name was removed from the civic register to take from him all rights of citizenship.’

Hawthorne appears to offer tentative support for a doctrine of conditional immortality when he adds: ‘If one could argue from these statements that all names have been recorded in the book of life, thereby assuring existence for each person, and if one might also argue that for some reason, e.g., wilful disobedience to God’s commands, deliberate refusal to accept Christ as Savior and Lord, etc., one’s name could be removed from this divine register, “blotted out,” then one might argue that that person would cease to exist, for his name would no longer exist.’

ISBE (2nd ed.), art ‘name’

10:21 On that same occasion Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your gracious will. 10:22 All things have been given to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son decides to reveal him.”
Mt 11:25–27 = Lk 10:21,22

On that same occasion – This points to a close connection with the preceding.  ‘This is Jesus’ response (declared is literally ‘answered’) to his rejection especially by the religious leadership.’ (France, on Matthew, TNTC)

“The wise and intelligent” – There is irony here, just as there is with Jesus’ statement about not calling the righteous, but sinners, Mt 9:13.  The ‘wise and learned’ are such in their own eyes, and perhaps in the eyes of others.  They may have academic qualifications.  But they have closed minds, and blinded eyes, with regard to the knowledge of the things of God.

‘The unrepentant are ironically characterized as the “wise and understanding”; “the immature” are Jesus’ disciples.’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary, on Matthew)

“Revealed them to little children” – ‘In Jewish wisdom tradition, it was not those who were wise in their own eyes and leaned to their own understanding who were genuinely wise, Job 12:24-25; Pr 3:5-7; 12:15; 16:2; 21:2; 26:12 but the simple who began with the fear of God.’ Job 28:28; Ps 111:10; Pr 1:7; 9:10 (IVP NT Background Commentary)

Most of us today would find this sentiment intolerable.  But, as Carson explains, ‘Far from finding fault with his Father’s revealing and concealing, Jesus delighted in it. Whatever pleases his Father pleases him. Jesus could simultaneously denounce the cities that did not repent and praise the God who does not reveal; for God’s sovereignty in election is not mitigated by human stubbornness and sin, while human responsibility is in no way diminished by God’s “good pleasure” that sovereignly reveals and conceals.’

‘It is interesting that, precisely at the point where Jesus is reflecting on those who have rebelled against his ministry, he says, ‘Thank you, Father.’ We are (rightly) thankful when people do believe; Jesus is thankful even when they remain stubborn and rebellious. The source of his thankfulness is the fact that God is sovereignly in control of all these matters.’ (Campbell, Opening Up Matthew)

“This was your gracious will” – ‘The reversal of the world’s standards expressed here echoes Isaiah 29:14, ‘the wisdom of their wise men shall perish’, and is picked up again in 1 Corinthians 1:18ff. Spiritual understanding does not depend on human equipment or status. It is the gift of God, and so is given to those in whom he is well pleased (the verb in 3:17 is from the same root as gracious will here). It depends on the sovereign purpose of the Lord of heaven and earth, and his choice falls on those the world would never expect.’ (France)

v22 The authenticity of this saying has been doubted.  But if the sayings recorded in John’s Gospel are those of Jesus, as well as those recorded in the Synoptic Gospels (and we believe that they are), then we can willingly accept Luke’s ‘bolt from the Johannine blue’.

This saying is one of those ‘bolts from the Johannine blue.’ It comes from the non-Markan material, the supposed ‘Q’ collection of sayings that was in circulation soon after AD 50. Cf. Jn 1:18.

‘No mere mortal could honestly make the claim Jesus makes here. There is a self-enclosed world of Father and Son that is opened to others only by the revelation provided by the Son.’ (Carson, on Matthew)

10:23 Then Jesus turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! 10:24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

Lk 10:23,24pp—Mt 13:16,17

Jesus spoke these words to his disciples privately, which ‘implies that the previous words were uttered in the hearing of more than the disciples.’ (Morris)

“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!”

In Jn 20:29 Jesus says to Thomas, “Blessed are the people who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Is there a contradiction between the two statements?  No, because they were uttered in completely different circumstances, and with entirely different purposes.  We should perhaps understand the word ‘blessed’ to be used in different ways: in the present saying, ‘highly favoured’; in the words to Thomas, ‘to be commended.’

“Many prophets and kings longed to see what you see but did not see it” – ‘The sense here is not that the gospel replaces and dispenses with the old covenant, as might be argued for example from the metaphor of “new wine” and “old wineskins” (Lk 5:37–39), but that the completion of salvation history eagerly anticipated in the old covenant (Jer 31:31–34; Ezek 36:24–32) is present in the witness of Jesus’ disciples.’ (Edwards)

The Parable of the Good Samaritan, 25-37

10:25 Now an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 10:26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you understand it?” 10:27 The expert answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” 10:28 Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
Lk 10:25–28pp—Mt 22:34–40; Mk 12:28–31

“What must I do…?” – Edwards observes that the tense suggests the meaning, “What (one) thing must I do…?”; a single, specific action is implied.

Allegorical interpretations
Fee & Stuart show how such a ‘great and brilliant’ scholar as Augustine could fall into entirely unwarranted allegorisation:-

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho = Adam
Jerusalem = the heavenly city of peace, from which Adam fell
Jericho = the moon, and thereby signifies Adam’s mortality
robbers = the devil and his angels
stripped him = of his immortality
beat him = by persuading him to sin
leaving him half dead = as a man he lives, but he died spiritually; therefore he is half dead
the priest and Levite = the priesthood and ministry of the Old Testament
the Samaritan = is said to mean Guardian; therefore Christ himself is meant
bandaged his wounds = binding the restraint of sin
oil = comfort of good hope
wine = exhortation to work with a fervent spirit
donkey (“beast”) = the flesh of Christ’s incarnation
inn = the church
the next day = after the resurrection
two silver coins = promise of this life and the life to come
innkeeper = Paul

Fee & Stuart comment: ‘As novel and interesting as all of this may be, one can be absolutely certain that it is not what Jesus intended. After all, the context clearly calls for an understanding of human relationships (Who is my neighbor?), not divine to human; and there is no reason to think that Jesus would predict the church and Paul in this obtuse fashion!’ (How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth, 4th ed., p155)

Trench, in his ‘Notes on the Parables’ offers the following mystical interpretation of this parable:-

The traveller represents human nature. He has forsaken Jerusalem (holiness) in favour of profanity (Jericho). He falls into the hands of Satan, who with his evil angels strips him of the robe of his original righteousness, leaving him (spiritually) for dead. The law and sacrifices ‘passed him by’, being unable to restore him. The ‘Great Physician’ came, and applied the anointing of the Holy Spirit (oil), the blood of passion (wine) and the sacraments (binding up the wounds). The inn represents the church. The leaving of the Samaritan represents the departure (ascension) of Christ. The two coins represent all gifts and graces, left by Christ as a provision of grace until his return.

There is, of course, something attractive and apparently spiritual about such a scheme of interpretation. But that is not what Jesus meant when he told the parable. The meaning is fixed by the question which prompted it (‘Who is my neighbour’ – focusing on human relationships), and by the command given by Christ at the close (‘Go and do likewise’ – showing that the compassion of the Samaritan is meant to illustrate how we should behave as followers of Christ).

‘Swami Shivananda, a famous swami in India used to tell his disciples: Kill the mind and then, and then only, can you meditate. The Christian position is, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy mind – the intellectual nature; with all thy heart – the emotional nature; with all thy soul – the willing nature; and with all thy strength – the physical nature. The total person is to love him mind, emotion, will, strength. But the strength might mean the strength of all three. Some love him with the strength of the mind and the weakness of the emotion – the intellectualist in religion; some love him with the strength of emotion and the weakness of the mind – the sentimentalist in religion; some love him with the strength of the will and the weakness of emotion – the man of iron who is not approachable. But loving God with the strength of the mind, the strength of the emotion, the strength of the will that makes the truly Christian and the truly balanced and the truly strong character.’ (Stanley Jones)

10:29 But the expert, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 10:30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him up, and went off, leaving him half dead. 10:31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, but when he saw the injured man he passed by on the other side.

He wanted to justify himself – As Stein says, ‘this indicates a less than sincere response on the part of the lawyer, reinforcing his negative attitude in 10:25.’

Nolland: ‘The lawyer wishes to appear in a good light, despite having lost the initiative to Jesus, and having been displaced from the position of challenger to that of the one being challenged.’

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho” – A steep road, 17 miles (27km) long, descended the 3,300 ft. from Jerusalem to Jericho, which was a country dwelling of priests when not on temple duty (cf. 1:23).

Undesigned coincidence?  ‘Why did Jesus set the Good Samaritan between Jericho and Jerusalem?  Luke 9-10 records the journey of Jesus from northern Israel towards Jerusalem, leading through Samaria. Jesus comes to the home of Mary and Martha, which John tells us is Bethany (11:1). Mark recounts a similar but different journey where he goes to Jericho first (10:46). So if Jesus took the same route multiple times it is plausible that Jesus travelled from Jericho to Bethany (which is the same road as between Jericho and Jerusalem), explaining why he chose that as the setting for the parable just previously. The priest and the Levite are also appropriate characters given Jericho’s religious history (2 Kgs 2:5) and that many Temple-workers would have lived there. The choice of a Samaritan also fitted as a rebuke to his disciples, since it was just previously that James and John asked Jesus to call down fire on the Samaritans (Lk 9:54).’ (Source)

10:32 So too a Levite, when he came up to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
10:33 But a Samaritan who was traveling came to where the injured man was, and when he saw him, he felt compassion for him. 10:34 He went up to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 10:35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever else you spend, I will repay you when I come back this way.’

‘The story ‘works’ on the fact that the audience probably expected that the third character would now be a Jewish layman, thus giving it an anti-clerical point.’ (Marshall)

‘The main point of [this parable] is its racial twist.  It is not just that neighbour-love ignores racial and national barriers, but that in Jesus’ story a Samaritan did for a Jew what no Jew would ever have dreamed of doing for a Samaritan.’ (Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today)

10:36 Which of these three do you think became a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 10:37 The expert in religious law said, “The one who showed mercy to him.” So Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”

‘The lawyer perhaps could not bring himself to answer the question by saying ‘the Samaritan’!’ (Marshall)

‘The main point of the parable…is its racial twist. It is not just that neighbour-love ignores racial and national barriers, but that in Jesus’ story a Samaritan did for a Jew what no Jew would ever have dreamed of doing for a Samaritan.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 367)

Jesus and Martha, 38-42

10:38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him as a guest. 10:39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he said. 10:40 But Martha was distracted with all the preparations she had to make, so she came up to him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work alone? Tell her to help me.” 10:41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things, 10:42 but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the best part; it will not be taken away from her.”

The placing of this little incident after the Parable of the Good Samaritan is notable. That emphasised the 2nd table of the law – ‘Love your neighbour’. This is related to the 1st table – ‘Love the Lord your God’. Especially taught here is the necessity of giving heed to the word of God.

A village – The home of Martha and Mary is named as Bethany in Jn 11:1 12:1-3. This village is less than two miles to the east of Jerusalem.

Martha opened her home to him – Martha is named before Mary not only here but in Jn 11:19f; 12f. In Jn 11:5 she is even named before Lazarus. The picture of the two painted by Luke and John is entirely consistent.

Mary…sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said – She adopted the posture of a disciple, cf. Acts 22:3 (lit.). ‘Mary’s posture and eagerness to absorb Jesus’ teaching at the expense of a more traditional womanly role (10:40) would have shocked most Jewish men.’ (NT Background Cmt’y) It is these same feet that Mary was later to anoint, Jn 12:3; cf. Mt 26:6-7 Mk 14:3.

‘Mary of Bethany is seen three times in the Gospel record, and on each occasion, she is in the same place: at the feet of Jesus. She sat at his feet and listened to his Word, (Lk 10:39) fell at his feet and shared her woe, (Jn 11:32) and came to his feet and poured out her worship.’ (Jn 12:3) (Wiersbe)

‘Let us observe, for one thing, how different the characters and personalities of true Christians may be. The two sisters of whom we read in this passage were faithful disciples. Both had believed. Both had been converted. Both had honored Christ when few gave him honor. Both loved Jesus, and Jesus loved both of them. Yet they were evidently women of very different turn of mind. Martha was active, stirring, and impulsive, feeling strongly, and speaking out all she felt. Mary was quiet, still, and contemplative, feeling deeply, but saying less than she felt. Martha, when Jesus came to her house, rejoiced to see him, and busied herself with preparing a suitable refreshment. Mary, also, rejoiced to see him, but her first thought was to sit at his feet and hear his word. Grace reigned in both hearts, but each showed the effects of grace at different times, and in different ways.

We shall find it very useful to ourselves to remember this lesson. We must not expect all believers in Christ to be exactly like one another. We must not set down others as having no grace, because their experience does not entirely tally with our own. The sheep in the Lord’s flock have each their own peculiarities. The trees in the Lord’s garden are not all precisely alike. All true servants of God agree in the principal things of religion. All are led by one Spirit. All feel their sins, and all trust in Christ. All repent, all believe, and all are holy. But in minor matters they often differ widely. Let not one despise another on this account. There will be Marthas and there will be Marys in the Church until the Lord comes again.’ (Ryle)

Undesigned coincidence

Luke gives us a picture of two contrasting personalities: Martha, running around, stress by practicalities, and Mary, sitting, listening, thinking.  Jn 11:1-46 records a different event (the death and raising of Lazarus), that has no obvious connection with Luke’s narrative.  In John’s account, it is once again Martha who acts, going out to meet Jesus, while Mary remains seated at home (Jn 11:20).  Martha sends a message back to Mary, who then makes her way, not to Lazarus’ tomb, but to Jesus, falling at his feet (Jn 11:32; she had been at Jesus’ feet in Luke’s Gospel too).  After arriving at the tomb, Martha comments that her brother’s body would by now be causing a stench, because he had been dead for four days (Jn 11:39) – another very practical remark.

Peter Williams concludes: ‘there is no obvious reason to conclude that one author has copied the other, but the two narratives present the two characters in ways that accord with each other. This is so in the physical matters of Mary’s “sitting” and positioning herself physically at Jesus’s feet, but also in the practical concerns of Martha in both accounts. In both stories, she is also the more active. The easiest interpretation of this is that both Luke and John are describing true characters.’ (Can We Trust the Gospels?)

Martha was distracted by all the preparations – lit. ‘distracted by much serving’ (diakonia). ‘We get the impression that she wanted to do something special for Jesus.’ (Morris) Remember, Jesus had brought all his disciples along, v38, and so there were about 16 to cater for. Martha’s problem was not that she served – we cannot do too much of that – but that she was ‘distracted’ by all these things. In performing the tasks, she forgot the purpose and the person they were for. Never allow service to God to override fellowship with him. Never be so taken up with going out for Christ, that you are too busy to come in and sit at his feet in prayer.

‘Let us observe, for another thing, what a snare to our souls the cares of this world may be, if allowed to take up too much attention. It is plain from the tone of the passage before us, that Martha allowed her anxiety to provide a suitable entertainment for the Lord, to carry her away. Her excessive zeal for temporal provisions, made her forget, for a time, the things of her soul. “She was cumbered about much serving.”…The fault of Martha should be a perpetual warning to all Christians. If we desire to grow in grace, and to enjoy soul-prosperity, we must beware of the cares of this world. Except we watch and pray, they will insensibly eat up our spirituality, and bring leanness on our souls. It is not open sin, or flagrant breaches of God’s commandments alone, which lead men to eternal ruin. It is far more frequently an excessive attention to things in themselves lawful, and the being “cumbered about much serving.” It seems so right to provide for our own! It seems so proper to attend to the duties of our station! It is just here that our danger lies. Our families, our business, our daily callings, our household affairs, our interaction with society, all, all may become snares to our hearts, and may draw us away from God. We may go down to the pit of hell from the very midst of lawful things.’ (Ryle)

“Martha, Martha” – Repeating her name emphasises his concern, cf. 6:46; 8:24; 13:34; 22:31.

Martha was “worried and upset about many things,” as if to say, ‘Such an elaborate meal was not at all necessary. Besides there are things which in excellence and importance far surpass eating.’ (Hendriksen)

“Only one thing is needed” – 1 Tim 4:8; Mt 6:33. Some have thought that Jesus meant, “Only one dish would have sufficed,” but this seems artificial. Probably he meant, “The thing that matters most of all is what Mary has chosen – to listen to my words.” The lesson would then be parallel to that of Deut 8:3 “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”

Martha fretted and fussed over many things. But there is only one thing that is really needful.

“Mary has chosen what is better” – Many practical people have a sneaking sympathy for Martha. After all, somebody had to prepare the food and do the dishes! Moreover, hospitality is celebrated in a variety of ways in the NT. But we need to take seriously our Lord’s gentle rebuke. Martha had chosen what is good; Mary, what is better. This story should not be taken as exalting the contemplative over the active life. The problem was not Martha’s hospitality, but the fact that she was distracted by it. Like Martha, we need to learning the difference between the urgent and the important.

‘Few things are as damaging to the Christian life as trying to work for Christ without taking time to commune with Christ. “For without me ye can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) Mary chose the better part, the part that could not be taken from her. She knew that she could not live “by bread alone”.’ (Mt 4:4) (Wiersbe)

‘The point is not that activity like Martha’s is bad. The choice Jesus discusses with Martha is between something that is good and something that is better. Life is full of tough choices, and Jesus is stressing the relative merits of good activities here. For conscientious people, such choices are often the most difficult and anxiety-filled.’ (IVP Commentary)

‘Jesus did not blame Martha for being concerned about household chores. He was only asking her to set priorities. It is possible for service to Christ to degenerate into mere busywork that is no longer full of devotion to God.’ (HBA)

‘The story is not meant to teach the value of a contemplative life compared with a life of action, but to show that service to Jesus must not fill people’s lives to such an extent that they have no time to learn from him. One honours him more by listening to him than by providing excessively for his needs.’ (cf. Jn 6:27) (Marshall)

‘Martha was gently rebuked by Jesus, not because she worked hard to prepare his dinner but because she neglected a more important concern. She had been so busy making a perfect meal that she failed to nourish her soul with the spiritual food Mary was receiving through fellowship with him. The fact that Martha was anxious about her work indicates that her priorities had gotten out of line. Mary, however, had chosen that good part, which would not be taken away from her. (Lk 10:42)

This little incident teaches us the danger of neglecting our souls whilst engaged in commendable duties. We should then make a special effort to organise and discipline our lives so that we can attend to the Lord and the affairs of the Spirit. It may be wise to plan on a daily and weekly basis time when other activities can be suspended so that we can do so.

An unknown author has captured the lesson of Luke 10 in these poetic words:

Martha in the kitchen, serving with her hands,
Occupied for Jesus with her pots and pans.
Loving him, yet fevered, burdened to the brim,
Careful, troubled Martha, occupied for him.

Mary on the footstool, eyes upon her Lord,
Occupied with Jesus, drinking in his word.
This one thing was needful, all else strangely dim;
Loving, resting Mary, occupied with him.

So may we, like Mary, choose the better part:
Resting in his presence, hands and feet and heart;
Drinking in his wisdom, strengthened by his grace;
Waiting for the summons, eyes upon his face.

When it comes, were ready, spirit, will, and nerve;
Mary’s heart to worship, Martha’s hand to serve;
This the rightful order, as our lamps we trim:
Occupied WITH Jesus, then occupied FOR him!’

(Our Daily Bread)

It is a sign that Martha learned this lesson well that two of Scripture’s most profound confessions of faith would come from her lips, Jn 11:21f, 27.

‘According to Jn 12:1-2, Martha must have learned her lesson, for she prepared a feast for Jesus, the Twelve, and her brother and sister-that’s fifteen people-and did not utter one word of complaint! She had God’s peace in her heart because she had learned to sit at the feet of Jesus.’ (Wiersbe)

‘The cares of this life are dangerous, even when they seem to be most lawful and commendable. Nothing of a worldly nature could have been more proper than to provide for the Lord Jesus and supply his wants. Yet even for this, because it too much engrossed her mind, the Lord Jesus gently reproved Martha. So a care for our families may be the means of our neglecting religion and losing our souls.’ (Barnes)