38. Now it came to pass as they went, that he entered into a certain town; and a certain woman named Martha, received him into her house.
“As they went,” as Jesus and His Apostles were passing through the several
places and cities of Judea. whither He had sent the seventy-two disciples before Him, “He entered into a certain town”—in the Greek, κώμη (kōmē), a village—no doubt, accompanied by His Apostles. This is generally supposed to be Bethany, about two miles from Jerusalem, “the town of Mary and Martha”—(John xi. 1).
“And a certain woman named Martha received Him into her house,” that is, hospitably entertained Him and His Apostles. Unquestionably Martha was duly sensible of the exalted honour conferred on her in being privileged to be the hostess of the Son of God. “The servant received her Lord; the sick one her Saviour; the creature, her Creator; the one that needed spiritual repast, Him who needed corporal support, owing to the condition he condescended to assume”—St. Augustine (Sermon 26, de Verbis Domini).
Although Mary and Lazarus lived in the same house with Martha, the latter only is said to have entertained Him and His followers; probably, because being the elder sister (St. Bernard, Serm. 3 de Assumptione), to whom the house and possessions there belonged as her portion, she exclusively managed the household concerns; whereas, Mary had been away in Galilee, whence she followed our Lord (viii. 2). Hence, her great anxiety on this occasion to prepare everything in a manner worthy of so distinguished a guest.
39. And she had a sister called Mary, who sitting also at the Lord’s feet, heard his word.
” Named Mary” viz., Mary Magdalen, of whom there is question (chap, vii. 37-48 ; John xi. 1, &c. ; xii. 3, &c.) “Who sitting also at the Lord’s feet” &c. “Also” may mean, that she did this in fixed purpose ; she not only heard Him in a passing way, but she also with fixed, immoveable determination, “sat at His feet,” a phrase denoting that she became an attentive listener to Him as teacher. Disciples are, by a Jewish idiom, said to sit at the feet of their teachers. “Also,” may mean, that she, as well as His disciples and other women, listened attentively to His instructions and discourses; or, “also,” may have reference to our Lord—He sat teaching, she also sat, but it was at His feet, listening as a disciple to His heavenly teaching.
” Heard His word” Our Lord omitted no opportunity of imparting instruction.
He never lost time; even while food is being prepared for Him, He is engaged in His Father’s business. What an example to all who are engaged in the Apostolical ministry. They should be always employed in the business of their calling.
” Hæc meditare, in his esto” (Meditate on these things) is the injunction of St. Paul to all ministers of the Gospel (1 Tim. iv. 15).
40. But Martha was busy about much serving. Who stood and said: Lord hast thou no care that my sister hath left me alone to serve? speak to her therefore, that she help me.
” Martha was busy,” or distracted, “with much serving,” that is, with the
multiplicity of business she had on hands, moving here and there in endeavoring worthily to provide a repast for our Lord and His followers.
” Who stood and said, Lord, hast thou no care?” &c. Martha, wearied from work, and possibly finding herself unequal, if unaided, to the task of providing for our Lord and His followers, sweetly appeals to Him in terms of the greatest respect, —“Lord”—to advise her sister to come to her assistance. She knew that if she were to appeal directly to her sister, she would do so in vain, so engrossed was she, and so intensely bent on listening to the words of her Divine Lord. “Hast thou no care?” &c, is simply intended to arrest our Lord’s attention, so that He might see the hardship of her case, and His commiseration might be excited. ” Speak to her, therefore, to help me.” Martha’s anxiety to have everything properly prepared for our Lord was such, that without her sister’s aid, be the other attendants ever so numerous, she considered herself to be left alone. She bore testimony to the obedient spirit of her sister; since our Lord had only to say it, and she would comply at once.
41. And the Lord answering, said to her: Martha, Martha, thou art careful, and art troubled about many things.
“Martha, Martha.” The repetition of the name indicates affection, or perhaps
was meant to invite attention (St. Augustine, Ser. 26, de verbis Domini). “Thou are careful.” The Greek word—τυρβάζω (turbazo)̄—means mental anxiety, “and art troubled about many things,” distracted with a multiplicity of cares.
42. But one thing is necessary. Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her.
“But one thing is necessary.” The Greek is, “of one thing, there is necessity.”
Some Expositors explain this to mean, “thou art uselessly and unnecessarily
troubling thyself in preparing many dishes; whereas, only one dish, one kind of food alone is necessary.” But the comparison evidently conveyed in the following words, “Mary hath chosen” &c, renders this interpretation very improbable. Hence, “the one thing” declared to be “necessary” is, seeking and securing the salvation of our souls—the essential end of our creation, of our coming into this world—secure this, all is well; lose or forfeit this, every thing else is lost. This alone is “necessary.” Every thing else is useless, save as far as it conduces to secure this end, this priceless good. Every thing else, Every other gain or acquisition is loss, nay, noxious, if it, in any way, mar this essential end. No doubt, Martha, by serving, laboring, and ministering to our Lord, was adopting the means of reaching this great end. But, this multiplicity of occupations was distracting, and exposed her to the danger of deflecting from the right and straight path, that led thereto. Whereas, Mary while attending to one thing, the sweet converse of her Lord, was not in such danger of going astray or turning aside from the straight path, as was Martha. She found Him whom “her soul loved ; she held Him and would not let Him go.” (Cant. iii. 2).
“Mary hath chosen the better part” &c. Our Lord does not find fault with the
course Martha was pursuing. He only gives the preference to the course Mary
followed. She had chosen the part of meditating on the things of God, of attending to His inspirations, of having her mind constantly fixed on Him. This is the more secure way of attaining to heavenly bliss. It is a foretaste of this bliss to come, which consists in the beatific vision, in the knowledge, love, and contemplation of God. Hence, in the life to come, Mary’s occupation will continue the same, but in a more intense, exalted, and perfect degree; whereas, worldly cares and interests will pass away with time. The contemplative life is, then, preferred here by our Lord to the active. We are not, however, to infer from this, that those whose duties appertain to the active life, are warranted in abandoning them in order to devote themselves exclusively to contemplation and prayer. The union of the active life with the contemplative is the most perfect of all, such as was followed by our Lord, His Apostles, and all their followers in the ecclesiastical state, and in the ministry of saving souls. Every one should faithfully discharge the active duties of the state of life in which Providence has placed him; and manage so, in the midst of active occupations, as to turn to God by prayer and contemplation, and refer, by a pure intention of pleasing Him, all his actions to His greater glory. Thus, and thus only, will he securely attain the great end of his existence, the “one thing necessary.”
- Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Luke 10:38-42 (thedivinelamp.wordpress.com)
- Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Luke 10:38-42 (thedivinelamp.wordpress.com)
- Martha and Mary (friarmusings.wordpress.com)