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Monday, July 16, 2007

Lexegete -- Pentecost 8

Lexegete TM | Year C


July 22, 2007 (Lectionary 16)

Complementary Series
Genesis 18:1-10a
Psalm 15 (Ps. 15:1)
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10:38-42

Semicontinuous Series
Amos 8:1-12 Psalm 52 (Ps. 52:8)
Colossians 1:15-28 Luke 10:38-42
OR Lesser Festivals:
Mary Magdalene, Apostle | July 22, 2007
Ruth 1:6-18 or Exodus 2:1-10 Psalm 73:23-28 (Ps. 73:28)
Acts 13:26-33a John 20:1-2, 11-18
James, Apostle | July 25, 2007
1 Kings 19:9-18 Psalm 7:1-10 (Ps. 7:10)
Acts 11:27—12:3a Mark 10:35-45

1. CONTEXT: Luke 10:38-42

This story, which Luke alone preserves for us, follows directly the
parable of the "good Samaritan." That parable accents active concern
for the neighbor, even when he or she falls outside one's own ethnic or
religious group. Some suggest that Luke places the story of Martha
and Mary right after the parable of the good samaritan to warn
hearers that discipleship is not, however, to be reduced to service for
others; it must also involve "sitting at the feet of Jesus" to hear the
word of God.
1b. TEXT: Luke 10:38-42

38. εν δε τω πορευεσθαι αυτους αυτος εισηλθεν
εις κωμην τινα γυνη δε τις ον
οματι μαρθα υπεδεξατο αυτον εις την οικιαν

39. και τηδε ην αδελφη καλουμενη μαριαμ [η]
και παρακαθεσθεισα προς το
υς ποδας του κυριου ηκουεν τον λογον αυτου

40. η δε μαρθα περιεσπατο περι πολλην διακονιαν
επιστασα δε ειπεν κυριε
ου μελει σοι οτι η αδελφη μου μονην με κατελειπεν
διακονειν ειπον ουν αυτη
ινα μοι συναντιλαβηται

41. αποκριθεις δε ειπεν αυτη ο κυριος μαρθα μαρθα μεριμνας
και θορυβαζη περι πολλα

42. ολιγων δε εστιν χρεια η ενος μαριαμ
γαρ την αγαθην μεριδα εξελεξατο η
τις ουκ αφαιρεθησεται αυτης

2. ANALYSIS: Luke 10:38-42

The text's genre is best described as "pronouncement story." Jesus'
final pronouncement in 10: 41-42 serves as the climax of the story. The
text can be outlined in the following way:
10: 38-39a Setting with chief characters named;
10: 39b-40 Contrast between reactions of Mary and Martha
10: 41-42 Pronouncement of Jesus
--challenge to Martha (41b-42a)
--commendation of Mary (42b)
The pericope commences "and as they were going, he [Jesus]
entered into a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha
received him." Immediately her sister is introduced to the hearers.
This prepares for the contrast between the two women's reactions to
the visit of Jesus.
The fact that Martha was there to welcome Jesus hints at an
established relationship with him, though we are not told this directly.
She is extending hospitality to a friend, a courtesy relied upon by
travelers in the biblical world. Less typical to that world would be a
household without a male as head (cf. John 11: 1ff.), a situation
implied by the story. Only the two women are mentioned. Note that
even the accompanying disciples, referred to in 10:38 [autous], drop
out of the story. Clearly, the story concentrates on the two women
and Jesus' interaction with them. Moreover, since Gospel stories
seldom name their characters, it seems likely that these two women --
Martha and Mary -- held an important place in the memory of the
earliest church.
Now we must inquire more directly into the meaning of this brief
story. Just as the previous story (10: 30-35) yields its meaning by
developing a contrast, one between the Temple functionaries and the
Samaritan, so too this story's point relates to the contrast between the
two women. Fitzmyer puts it succinctly: "...the contrast is seen
between the reactions of Martha, the perfect hostess, and of Mary, the
perfect disciple" (p. 892).
By positioning herself at Jesus' feet, Mary has assumed the listening
posture of a disciple (in Acts 22: 3 Paul indicates that he was brought
up in Jerusalem "at the feet of Gamaliel" -- a famous Jewish rabbi).
Martha, in contrast, was concerned about offering service to Jesus
([diakonia] means serving another in most practical ways). Extending
hospitality to the traveler/guest was in fact viewed by Jews as a
sacred obligation. It was this duty which was causing Martha anxiety.
Or to put it more precisely, it was Mary's failure to share this
obligation which was really disturbing Martha (10: 40).
As Tannehill (pp. 136-137) helpfully points out, Martha is fulfilling
the role expected of a woman -- providing for the guest (assuming
there were no servants to serve the meal), while Mary was indulging
in a highly questionable activity by assuming the role of a disciple
learning from a rabbi. At that time it was unheard of for a Jewish
rabbi to enter a household in order to teach women.
The story's climax in 10: 41-42 challenges Martha by commending
Mary's choice. Jesus' pronouncement begins with the double addresss,
"Martha, Martha," a rhetorical device in biblical dialogue to
overcome the resistance or density on the part of the one addressed
(see, e.g., 22: 31 and Acts 9: 4). Fitzmyer suggests "The repeated name
gently chides" (p. 894). According to the story, Martha has badly
misunderstood what is at issue, and the "Lord" dramatically claims her
attention. His final words draw the contrast between the "many
things" about which she is troubled and the "one thing" needful which
Mary has chosen. The story ends with Jesus' commending Mary for
choosing the "good part" [ten agathen merida], thereby challenging all
"Martha" hearers to rethink their anxiousness.
The key phrase "and of one thing there is need" [enos de estin
chreia] is ambiguous, perhaps by deliberate design. By the end of the
story, the hearers realize that Mary's attentive posture before Jesus is
to be preferred over Martha's harried and complaining approach to
hospitality. But the hearers are not told precisely what "the one thing
needful" is. Is the story saying that enjoying and benefitting from the
Lord's presence is more vital for us than frantically serving the Lord?
Perhaps. Mary's posture is a receiving and self-transcending one,
while Martha's activity -- though aimed at the Lord -- exhibits anxiety
and self-concern.
Finally, it should be noted that Luke, as he does elsewhere, narrates
the story to make it the church's story. Jesus is described as "the
Lord," a title used by the post-resurrection community. Twice Jesus is
referred to as the Lord (10: 39 and 10: 41) as well as Martha's
addressing him as the Lord (10: 40). Luke has shaped this story to
make it immediately relevant to Christian communities. Christians
need to ponder what Jesus' pronouncement means for their way of

3. STRATEGY: Luke 10:38-42

1. This story addresses the "Marthas" in the congregation, or better
yet, the "Martha" in all of us. It is so easy to allow our dedicated
service "to the Lord", whether it be painting the church or cleaning up
after a wedding reception, to become poisoned by an attitude resentful
of others who do not appear to be sharing the burden of work.
Suddenly, our service towards others--at home, church, or work--can
be undercut by feelings of obligation and resentment.
2. This text intends to focus our attention on the "one thing"
needful. Mary was enjoying and learning from the presence of the
Lord. To quote Talbert:
Mary is characterized by an undivided attention to Jesus
himself. She is also one who receives from the Lord.
Martha was distracted, not wholly focused on Jesus himself.
The reason was her "much serving" (vs. 40). Her desire to
work for Jesus distracted her focus on Jesus and prevented
her receiving from him what she needed (p. 126).
As pastors, we need to devote some serious thought to how
congregational life contributes to distracted and harried activity which
reduces time and space for "sitting at Jesus' feet." It would be tragic
for us to be consumed by "much serving" and miss "the one thing

4. REFERENCES: Luke 10: 38-42

The Anchor Bible: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1985, pp. 891-895.
York: Crossroad, 1982, pp. 125-126.
A LITERARY INTERPRETATION, Vol. 1, Philadelphia: Fortress
Press, 1986, pp. 132-139.

Exegete: James L. Bailey, Ph.D.

Dr. Bailey is professor emeritus of New Testament at Wartburg Seminary in
Dubuque, Iowa. He is Director of the Center for Congregational Leadership (CCL)
and the Lay School of Ministry (LSM). He taught both at Trinity Lutheran
Seminary and Concordia College before coming to Wartburg in 1985. Jim and his
wife Judy have two sons and five grandchildren.



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