Jesus visits his dear friends Martha and Mary in their home. Martha is upset that Mary sits listening rather than helping her with the work as host. Some hear this as about work versus prayer or balancing action and contemplation.
This story come just after the lawyer who tries to test Jesus by asking “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” and “wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus ‘Then who is my neighbor?’”[i] Paul Borgman says the lawyer and Martha are both anxious and trying to justify themselves.[ii] I am doing what is right. I know and follow the law. “Who is my neighbor?” I am upholding our virtue of hospitality. “Do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?”
Jesus replies to the lawyer with a story of a man robbed and left for dead. A priest and a Levite both pass him by, but a despised Samaritan stops to cares for him. Which one was a neighbor? Not our religious leaders. The one who showed mercy. Jesus says: “Go and do likewise.”[iii] Jesus replies to Martha. “You are worried and distracted by many things. … Mary has chosen the better part.” What does it mean to inherit eternal life? Listen to Jesus like Mary and be a good neighbor like the Samaritan.[iv]
Samaritans were despised for being a mixed race with the enemy. Samaritans were formed by some Assyrians marrying Israelites. The Assyrian Empire was the most violent in the Middle East for centuries. They long terrorized the area, making war after war against Israel, and taking its people captive. God told Jonah to go down to Nineveh, one of the capitals of Assyria. Jonah is anxious and so afraid he fled up in the opposite direction to Tarshish.
After a raging sea storm and prayer in the belly of fish, Jonah finally went to Nineveh and preached news that the city would be destroyed. The Assyrians repented! All put on sackcloth and fasted, and God withheld the calamity. Though he preached the message, Jonah’s heart was not in it. He got upset at the outcome. The book of Jonah is not ultimately about Jonah, rather about God who has boundless compassion. Violence and destruction do not negate it. God seeks and forgives even the Assyrians.
How might you identify with Jonah, upset at God showing mercy to tyrants, terrorists, and their nation? Have you gotten or dreamed of getting revenge for your hurt?
How might you identify with the lawyer, confident about correctness, including being religiously right, yet wondering what Jesus’ words really mean?
How might you identify with Martha, wearing in doing good work and wanting her sister’s help? Frustrated at those who just stop to be with Jesus.
Jesus had compassion for the one who tried to test him and for Martha. God had compassion for the Assyrians and for Jonah. Jesus has this loving mercy, this compassion for us. How have you experienced such kindness?
Jesus comes as loving Teacher and Friend, knowing our hearts, listening with compassion, and redirecting us, helping us change course, on the way to life.
“There is need of only one thing.” Listen to me.
Love well like the Samaritan. Be a neighbor to all.
I seek to restore even the most violent. Share the good news.
[i] Luke 10:25-29
[ii] Paul Borgman (2006) The Way according to Luke: Hearing the Whole Story of Luke-Acts. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, p103.
[iii] Luke 10:30-37
[iv] Borgman, p104.
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