Proper 11 • Luke 10:38-42 • July 17, 2016
By Paul R. Raabe
The Gospel lesson appointed for the ninth Sunday after Pentecost is the Mary and Martha account. It illustrates the priority of the word over food. The psalm for that day prays, “Teach me your way, O Yahweh” (Ps 27:11). That prayer expresses the desire of Mary.
When tempted, Jesus himself said, “Man will not live by bread alone” (Lk 4:4). The quotation from Deuteronomy 8:3 continues “but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” In the parable of the Sower, Jesus warns against letting the cares of life dominate over the hearing of the word, and he commends those who hear the word, hold it fast, and then bear fruit (Lk 8:14–15; see also 11:28; 12:22–31).
Notes on the Text
10:38: The story of Mary and Martha is unique to Luke. During his travels ultimately to Jerusalem (Lk 9:51) Jesus entered a village. We know from John 11:1 that the village was Bethany, two miles east of Jerusalem, probably modern El-Azariyeh on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. Unlike a Samaritan village that did not receive Jesus (Lk 9:52–56), Martha welcomed Jesus as a guest. Both Martha and Mary were followers of Jesus.
10:39: Mary, the sister of Martha, was sitting at the feet “of the Lord,” where she “was continually/attentively listening to his word” (imperfect of ἀκούω). To “sit at the feet” is a posture of submissive learning (e.g., Paul at the feet of Gamaliel in Acts 22:3).
10:40: In contrast, Martha wanted to pay attention but “was distracted over much service.” The noun service (διακονία) sometimes refers to the public service/ministry of the word (e.g., 2 Cor 5:18), but here it refers to the meal preparation. Martha was like some of the women who “continually gave service” (imperfect of διακονέω) to Jesus and the disciples out of their own supplies (Lk 8:3). Martha came up to Jesus and spoke to him: “Lord, you care—don’t you—that my sister left me alone to serve?” With the particle οὐ the question expects a “yes” answer. Assuming that Jesus does care about this, Martha speaks an imperative to the Lord: “Then tell her that she should assist me.”
10:41: The Lord responds to Martha with gentle admonishment. By repeating her name, Jesus clearly shows that he cares about her. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things.”
10:42: Jesus continues: “But of one thing there is need.” In contrast to Martha’s many concerns, there is one thing needful. “For Mary chose the good portion which will not be taken away from her.” Here for answers an implied “Why do I say that? For . . .” A positive adjective (good) can be used for a comparative (better). The noun portion was probably chosen as a play on words; Mary chose the better portion of the meal. This portion is the Lord’s word that she was single-mindedly hearing. The final clause works on two levels. The better portion “will not be taken away from her,” not now by ordering her to help prepare a big meal nor for all eternity. The devil tries to “take away” the word of God from the hearts of people (Lk 8:12), but the Lord will not do that.
Sermon Idea: Let the Lord’s Word Mesmerize You
Goal: One goal of a sermon on this text could be to encourage and motivate the listener to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the word of the Lord as given in both Testaments.
Malady: Reports from Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod congregations indicate that attendance at adult Bible classes is rather dismal. People are busy and stressed. Moreover, our pragmatic American culture supposes that nothing could be more impractical, unproductive, or boring than study of the Bible. Even faithful Christians can be caught up in the busyness of everyday living. As a result, serious study of the Lord’s word is neglected. We all need to confess our neglect and indifference, receive holy absolution, and amend our daily lives. Then teachers will study more diligently and strive to become better teachers, and hearers will put a priority on serious study of the word over all the other daily tasks and pursuits.
Means: Why should we “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the word of the Lord? Because the Lord’s word is not boring. It is deep and mind-blowing, awesome, overwhelming really. Not only that, it is the word of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, the very Son of God. He is the one who fulfilled what was written by Moses and the prophets, and he did it all for you. He lived the obedient life for you; he set his face to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die for you; he was raised from the dead and exalted for you; and he will come again in glory for you. His word will save you and transform your life. It is the one thing needful. Like Mary in the gospel lesson, let the Lord’s powerful and saving word mesmerize you.