On His way to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus stops in Bethany to stay at the house of Mary and Martha. While Martha is overwhelmed with preparations for the feast, Mary sits at Jesus' feet and hears His teaching. This episode looks at the context of the scene as well as the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Hey everyone, Josh Hawkins here, this is episode 89 of Opening up the Gospels. In Episode 88, we saw from Luke chapter 10 that Jesus had sent seventy others ahead of Him as He journeyed southward to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. He had not only sent them ahead to look for accommodations but He had also given them divine power and instructed them to preach the same message that He had preached to the crowds in Galilee. There was an urgency to their message and to their demeanor, because the generation of Jews was at a crossroads and their decision to accept or reject Jesus would determine their destiny. Jesus had already rejected Galilee and the window to bear the fruits of repentance for the rest of the nation was closing. Their failure to respond would result in the continued covenantal curses that God had promised in Deuteronomy. The next scene we see in Luke 10 is a lawyer standing up and questioning Jesus, saying “what must I do to inherit eternal life, and who is my neighbor?”. Jesus responds with the well known parable of the good Samaritan. Now remember what we looked at a couple of episodes ago where Jesus left Galilee in the north for the feast of Tabernacles and wanted to use the less popular route through Samaria to get to Jerusalem. The Samaritans rejected Him, and so He took the familiar eastern route. It’s somewhere on this route that Jesus meets the lawyer. Now as I’ve mentioned before, some believe that this section of Luke’s gospel is just a random travel narrative with a bunch of events all lumped together and that there is no specific structure or chronology to it at all. I don’t think that’s the case, and I think we can be a little bit more specific as to where this famous story of the good Samaritan was spoken though, because of what we see Jesus saying in Luke 10: "But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side." (Luke 10:29–31 ESV) Before we talk about where this scene could have taken place, we see Luke telling us that the teacher of the Law was seeking to justify Himself before God and be confident in his understanding of who his neighbor was. He probably interpreted “neighbor” to be those much like himself, those who were clearly part of God's covenant people, those who were zealous for the law, and those who believed their ethnicity qualified them to inherit the promises made to Abraham. In the story Jesus tells, the two people who neglected the injured man were a priest and a Levite, the highly religious of the day. The lawyer was looking for the minimum amount of obedience that was required to inherit eternal life, and Jesus completely turns his world upside down by saying that a Samaritan, the ones whom the Jews regarded as illegitimate, was the one who actually obeyed God’s command to love his neighbor and show mercy to the injured. Once again Jesus is indicting the Jewish leadership for their lack of repentance and their hatred of God and His commands. Now I think it’s very clear that this section of Luke’s Gospel describes three visits to Jerusalem, all organized chronologically. Though Luke does not record any of Jesus’ activity in the city of Jerusalem directly during this period, John’s gospel does. We can harmonize Luke and John very easily because Luke includes important geographical markers that indicate Jesus is journeying towards Jerusalem, and John indicates that Jesus is actually in Jerusalem. As we’ll see in a moment, one of those markers in Luke is the town of Bethany, which is just a couple of miles outside of Jerusalem. So let’s look at our map. We saw that in Luke 9:51, Jesus had set His face towards Jerusalem. He begins heading south for the feast of Tabernacles, taking the route through Samaria first. Upon being rejected there, He turns eastward and heads the normal route southward. He meets several people on the road and then sends the seventy out before Him. And we just looked at Luke 10 where Jesus meets a lawyer, and immediately after that we see Jesus in Bethany where he meets Mary and Martha. So we can likely presume that the lawyer Jesus meets is somewhere on this road. In fact, in His story to the lawyer, Jesus refers to a man going from Jerusalem to Jericho. It would make sense for Jesus to use this in his story if he was in fact on that road or at least close to it. So after Jesus meets the lawyer, He heads into the town of Bethany where he meets Mary and Martha. Let’s read from Luke 10: "Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”" (Luke 10:38–42 ESV) Now though the village Jesus enters is unnamed by Luke, we can be confident that it is the town of Bethany because John 11 verse 1 says that Bethany was the village of Mary and Martha. This is the first time that Mary and Martha are mentioned in the chronology of the Gospels, and as we’ll see they become a very important part of Jesus’ life leading up to the cross. It could also be that Mary and Martha’s house was the destination of one of the pairs of the seventy that Jesus had sent out, which could have been how Jesus came to be acquainted with them in the first place. Whatever the case, Martha was familiar enough with Jesus enough to welcome Him into her home. It was here where Jesus would stay throughout the Feast of Tabernacles. Remember, Tabernacles was the feast where everyone would come in advance and build little booths that they would stay in. The point of the feast was to remember Israel's days of sojourning in the wilderness and to anticipate the day they would inherit the land permanently when God would fulfill all His promises to them. So the whole area around Jerusalem was filled with these little huts. They would sleep in them and then go into the city to celebrate. Tabernacles was the most well-attended feast of the year. The Jewish historian Josephus said that Jerusalem would swell to perhaps 2 million people for the feast. Even if Josephus was exaggerating, even if it was half of that, a million people would even be huge for a city in the first century. Recall back in episode 87 how I noted that Jesus was going to the feast privately. Nobody had seen Him yet, and His absence was causing quite a stir in the city. John 7 says: "The Jews were looking for him at the feast, and saying, “Where is he?” And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, “He is a good man,” others said, “No, he is leading the people astray.”" (John 7:11–12 ESV) Jesus was just lingering there in Bethany with Mary and Martha. Their brother Lazarus was most likely at the feast a few miles away in Jerusalem because it would have been compulsory for the men to attend, but not the women. Now, picture the scene in the house. Luke says that Martha is distracted by much serving. This wasn’t just normal household chores. It was either on the eve of or in the middle of the feast of Tabernacles and there would have been guests everywhere. Back in the day, houses in Israel were often laid out with an open courtyard which is where the little huts would have been set up. So imagine a group of people that Martha is trying to serve in her home, and her sister Mary isn’t helping with the hospitality but just sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to His teaching. She’s just totally oblivious and preoccupied with Jesus who wasn’t really expected to be helping out with anything, and Martha is getting more and more annoyed by the minute. Then it all comes to a head and Martha says “what’s the deal?! Jesus, tell Mary to help me! People are coming back here later today and there is so much left to do!" Let’s take a step back and look at what’s going on here. This is about something so much more than completing the preparations for the feast and it’s about so much more than just generally sitting before Jesus and having a nice quiet time. Mary has is doing something that so many others in Israel have failed to do up to this point. If one of the pairs of messengers that Jesus had sent before Him had actually reached their house, Mary could have heard their message and opened her heart to the urgency and importance of what they were saying. So many others had not done this. So when Jesus actually came, Mary wanted to hear as much as she could. Also, think about what’s going on here more broadly and feel the tension of it all. The whole city of Jerusalem is festive, remembering and celebrating Yahweh’s deliverance of their people in the exodus and anticipating the coming day when He will fulfill all of His promises to Israel. And just a couple of miles away in a small town inside a house is Yahweh incarnate, God in the flesh, the promised king of Israel. He’s just sitting there with no one listening to Him except a young girl. In other words, the only person seemingly with any discernment of who Jesus really is at this point, at least to some degree, is Mary. The whole nation and all the religious leaders who claimed to know God were celebrating God and the feast He had ordained, and yet God was two miles away, just completely unnoticed. Oh, that juxtaposition is so crushing when you actually meditate on it! Now typically in this story, Mary is seen as the good girl and Martha is seen as the bad girl, and we say “don’t serve as much and worship and pray more instead". I don’t think Jesus is rebuking Martha for serving and telling her that serving is bad and that she needs a better prayer life instead. Remember, Martha had opened her home to Jesus, perhaps because she had heard some of the messengers who had come before Him. But she was overwhelmed by the tasks at hand instead of being overwhelmed by the One who had come in the house. This is something we do all the time - we let the cares of this life weigh us down and we so quickly forget about who Jesus is, what He’s done, and what He’s promised. As we’ll see later on, Jesus expresses His deep love not only for Mary but for Martha and their brother Lazarus. Mary understood who Jesus was and felt the importance of the message He was proclaiming - she was feasting on “the good portion”, which is just a figurative saying for “the right meal”. Martha too was preparing a meal, but Jesus is the bread from Heaven and feasting on Him would be what gives eternal life. That meal is the one that will endure and give true life, not the one Martha is preparing. Remember, all of this is being said in context to the urgency of the final 6 months of Jesus’ ministry. There wasn’t much time left to respond to Him. Well in the next episode we’ll head into Jerusalem and look at what Jesus says and does at the Feast of Tabernacles. He eventually does go up to the feast and begins teaching in the Temple, and what happens there is pretty dramatic. If you’ve missed any of the episodes in this series, you can find them all on my website, www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. God bless, and come back next time.