Luke 10: 25 – 41
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you’ve probably heard one or several sermons on these two stories. Maybe it is even difficult for you to read them without skimming. And maybe you skim them because they give you a bit of an uncomfortable feeling when you think about how you are supposed to apply them. Bad enough when you look at them separately, but more complicated when they are right after the other. For example, why it was good for the Samaritan to serve the wounded man, but it wasn’t good for Martha to serve Jesus?
I asked myself if Luke put these stories together at this point in the narrative for a reason and I think he did it to make a point about listening. If we go back to the last chapter and the account of the transfiguration of Jesus, God speaks from heaven, so it’s worth taking note:
“A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” (Luke 9: 35)
If we look closely, that theme continues through chapter 10.
“Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (10: 16)
Jesus knows who He is and because of that can send out his followers in his name as his representatives. He expected the seventy sent ones to listen to (and obey) his instructions. He knew that not everyone would.
“But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (10: 29)
The expert in the law came and asked Jesus an important question. You might expect someone with a question to listen to the answer. It looks like there is a dialogue going on and Jesus gives him an answer to his question, but instead of listening to the answer and taking a moment for self-reflection, he tries to justify himself and deflect the attention from himself to a question about definitions. The Bible doesn’t give a record of his response to Jesus’ command to go and do likewise. Maybe the words continued to ring in his ears and eventually made their way to his heart.
“She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted…” (10: 39 – 40)
We don’t know if Mary had been helping before she started listening, or if she was planning to hop up and help in a bit, but we do know that Martha was distracted. It’s hard to listen when you’re distracted (and even harder when you’re irritated at the same time). Jesus doesn’t tell Martha that the work she was doing was bad; he told her that Mary had chosen what was better. At that time in Jewish culture, the teachers (rabbi) would sit on a chair or pillow while they taught and the students would sit on the ground around them—they literally sat at his feet. Mary was listening and learning from Jesus as his disciple. David Guzik outlines what this means:
· To sit at the feet of Jesus implies readiness to accept and obey what Jesus teaches
· To sit at the feet of Jesus implies submission to Jesus; rebellion is done with
· To sit at the feet of Jesus implies faith in who Jesus is
· To sit at the feet of Jesus implies discipleship
· To sit at the feet of Jesus implies love
So, the connection between the two stories and between the two chapters is listening to Jesus, God’s Son, through the power of the Holy Spirit. When we need to know what to do in a specific situation (help with our hands or help with our prayers? stay or go? speak up or be quiet?), let us determine to take a moment or more to be still. To be still and to intentionally listen for truth, to listen without trying to justify ourselves and to listen without distraction.