We have heard or preached many sermons based on the gospel according to Luke. We know the character of the Levite priest and the compassionate Samaritan. We know the two sisters from Bethany. Do they have something in common? I believe they do. I have the impression that the story told by Luke in the second half of the 10th chapter is a view of the concept of religious life.
In both scenes the heroes are people interrogating Jesus, an anonymous teacher of the Law and a woman by the name Martha, who was a sister of Mary and Lazarus from Bethany. I found there seven contiguous points. Let's consider and see what they have to tell us.
1.They both want to be perfect within their sphere of activity.
The teacher of the Law knows the Law. The torah is his everyday bread. Exegesis, interpretation, apologetics and lectures based on each part of Scripture and the Law are the things he deals in. He informs his listeners concerning the knowledge of God and salvation. When Jesus from Nazareth appeared he received a new inspiration for scientific dispute. He would be a great theologian and a priest.
Martha is a housekeeper and keeps a farm. This is her specialty. She knows the rules of business and economic planning. Since Jesus started visiting them, she has had over a dozen additional people to feed and serve, and she always managed admirably. She would be a wonderful head of a deaconry or parish office.
2.They both subordinate their lives to the things of God.
The teacher of the Law knows that to be a teacher of the Law he not only must know 613 commandments (248 warrants and 365 prohibitions) but must also obey them. Salvation is the most important thing that matters for him. He wants to gain salvation for himself, but he directs his whole professional and personal effort to the redemption of God's people and to the service of God's glory. He subordinates his whole life to the teaching of God's Word.
Martha makes her house available for the needs of God's people also. She cleans, cooks, and washes for them and serves them - she bustles about and concerns herself over their needs. She subordinates the home budget and family life to the duty of deaconry service. She takes care of newcomers as if they were household members for Jesus and His Church.
3.They both recognize certain principles, whether the foundation of faith or some church's savoir-vivre, but there are some questions- concerning matters of faith and service - about which they must confront Jesus.
The teacher of the Law has heard that Jesus seems to disregard the Decalogue; he does not seem to follow the custom for the Sabbath or ritual washing. He takes upon himself an honor which belongs to The Highest only. Now an opportunity presents itself to examine the matter, and he will test Jesus' view and knowledge, his knowledge about God and the keeping of the Law... he feels the need to confront this...
Martha, to her surprise, notices that Jesus behaves as if he does not know the rules of living in a family and society. He should be following the norms of conduct in communion sanctorum. This church, which is gathered in her house, is sitting comfortably at His feet listening to His knowledge and waiting for the meal; and that is proper. However, Mary also joined them... but this place is to be reserved only for His learners - men. Jesus knows that a woman's place is in the kitchen. So why does he let her sit at His feet? Why does He not care that Martha has to work so hard alone? Why does He not take care for her? Martha must put His love and willingness to serve ones neighbor to the test..., she feels a need to confront this...
4.They both subject their points of view to Jesus authority.
Our teacher of the Law sees himself as a teacher in Israel..., but his question for Jesus starts from "Didaskale" - "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" He seems to be concerned about his salvation and knowledge of God. But how does it turn out? It turns out that although he posses the key to the knowledge for God's people, he wrongly interprets the way to salvation.
Martha, on the other hand, sees herself as a lady of the home and a lady in the work of deaconry... but the question for Jesus starts "Kirie" - "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?"... She appears to be concerned about the care of her neighbors, but in reality, in wanting to delegate her 'neighbors' to serve in deaconry, she does not understand what it really means to serve her neighbor.
5.They both fail to see their mistakes in their striving for perfection.
The teacher of the Law feels ashamed, so he tries to justify himself by asking the next question: "in the face of whom shall I act as a properly thinking neighbor...?" He suggests that "neighbor" should be narrowed to members of God's people. He might be thinking: It is not suitable to expect philanthropy from me since I have my own spiritual assignment...
Martha also feels ashamed, and she tries to justify herself by ordering Jesus: "tell her (Mary) to act in the face of mine as a properly thinking neighbor..." She suggests that the words "deacon, servant" should be widened. She might be thinking "I have a right to expect a commitment in deacon service from others, as there is still so much work to do..."
6. Jesus takes the blindfolds off their eyes.
Jesus, in answering the teacher of the Law, asks him for his opinion thinkest thou (in original language-) what do you suppose, how do you imagine). Dear friend, let me correct you. You are wrong in trying to solve the matter of salvation in a purely academic way, you must consider it in realistic and practical way.
Unto Martha, Jesus answers in this way: Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled (in Greek-) you are stirring and tangling in your perception of serving, you need to take every case of service under consideration at My feet.
7. They both received keys to solve their problems.
Although the teacher of the Law expected Jesus to narrow what he should do to inherit eternal life, he is instructed to the service, to be a neighbor for a needy person.
Although Martha expected Jesus to let her to force others to the duty of charity, she is instructed to assume a student's and a listener of God's Word attitude.
In the contemporary Church one can notice both attitudes.
- A contemporary teacher of the Law, a person of knowledge, very often looks upon those who are wounded by world, but he will leave leaning over them for deaconry or social service workers.
- A contemporary Martha, a person of deeds, very often looks upon a contemporary Mary sitting at Jesus' feet, awaiting from everyone the same like hers commitment into the charity service for an other.
From the Luke narration arise that both attitudes need a change in a way of thinking. To make both, the teacher of the Law and Martha, see matters properly, to metanoia, Jesus used examples of people not comfortable for them (Samaritan - unfaithful, strange- heretical for the teacher of the Law - it is difficult to be a neighbor for someone strange and different; and Mary being Martha's sister - it is difficult to be a neighbor to someone in your own house).
But Jesus gave Himself as a Sample, too. For these meetings have a deeper meaning.
- The teacher of the Law, who usually sits at a Teacher's feet, encounters in his life the One, who fell in the hands not one gang of hooligans, but of all mankind..., wounded and a 'half' dead, who was dead but resurrected.
- Martha, the activist, who usually leans over those who are wounded, encounters in her life the One who is the embodied Word.
Jesus leans upon their paths, the ways of thinking, to make them see what they are really like; to teach them the truth about their love to God and a neighbor, and make them come to repentance.
Everyone has right to perceive life in his/ her own way. It is important, however, for all of us to make sure that our conceptions (private, parish, or church-wide, or as deacons or otherwise) are in conformity with God's visions. If so, then let us allow God to reveal the truth about ourselves, to confront us with this inconvenient (because he interrupts our time) wounded man and the troublesome (because she does not share our points of view) Mary.
Moreover, do not blame them for what they are. God places them along our way to make us lean, to make us lean so over His Word as over the other man, so over the other man as over His Word; that we would love the LORD our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind, and our neighbor as ourselves.