Summary: In Prioritizing the Word of God, we must be : 1) Devoted to the Best (Luke 10:38-39), without settling for and being: 2) Distracted from the Good (Luke 10:40-42).
The word “priority” is a commonly used one today. Books and seminars purporting to teach people how get their lives in order by understanding and setting their priorities abound. As people’s lives become more frenetic, frantic, disjointed, and disconnected, they battle to stay focused on what should be their priorities. A priority is by definition a matter that ranks above all others in importance. Balancing work and reflection is tricky. Most people in Western cultures often have schedules that are full of “good” activity, labor that has merit. One of the demands of a full schedule is that the activity be prioritized. Some things come high on the list; others must wait. Sometimes priorities have to be shuffled at the last minute to meet needs. The account of Martha and Mary is about such priorities, especially when the options are good ones (Bock, D. L. (1994). Luke. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Lk 10:38). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.).
The record of the interplay between Mary and Martha in Luke 10, is a story about priorities. It is unique, in that it appears nowhere else in the Gospels. Despite its brevity, it occupies an important place in the flow of Luke’s gospel and conveys an essential truth by revealing the highest priority of the Christian life, that of loving God. It makes a fitting follow-up to the story of the Good Samaritan, which stressed the importance of loving one’s neighbor as evidence of loving God. The good Samaritan is an example of active doing; Mary is an example of quiet listening. Martha is very busy serving her neighbor, but what she is doing is not so essential as what Mary is doing. A service that bypasses the Word is one that will never have lasting character. The example of Mary correctly shows that hearing God’s Word must be our first priority (Prange, V. H. (1988). Luke. The People’s Bible (p. 127). Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House.).
In presenting the truth to our Neighbors, the story of Mary and Martha, is a great example of priorities and warning of what is good to share and do can displace what is best to share and do. The story of Mary and Martha is about the necessity of the priority of the Word of God in a life of active service for the Master. In fact, the teachings of Jesus were dramatically actualized in both women’s lives. Both are women of excellence and noble character (Hughes, R. K. (1998). Luke: that you may know the truth. Preaching the Word (pp. 394–395). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.).
In presenting the truth to our Neighbors, we are to be:
1) Devoted to the Best (Luke 10:38-39)
Luke 10:38-39 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. (ESV)
As the story begins in verse 38, Jesus and those accompanying Him went on their way/were traveling, as they would do throughout Judea. Where this incident fits chronologically into the Lord’s journey to Jerusalem is not known, but Luke placed it here for a specific purpose. No locale is named, because the event is more important than the place (Bock, D. L. (1996). Luke Volume 2: 9:51–24:53. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (pp. 1039–1040). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.)
Though he does not name the village Christ entered, John tells us it was Bethany, where Martha and Mary and their brother Lazarus lived (John 11:1; 12:1–3). According to John 11:18, Bethany “was near Jerusalem, about two miles off,” so Jesus was in the vicinity of Jerusalem, though not for the last time. As the Lord entered the village, He met a woman named Martha. Luke’s introduction of her as a woman suggests that Jesus had not yet met her. This may have been the first of many times He stayed in the home she shared with Mary and Lazarus. Luke appears not to have placed it in chronological sequence, for Bethany was near Jerusalem and at a later time. Jesus was still far from the capital (17:11). He may have placed it immediately after the preceding parable as a safeguard against any of his readers coming under the misapprehension that salvation is by works (Morris, L. (1988). Luke: an introduction and commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Vol. 3, pp. 209–210). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.).
Neither Jesus nor His messengers always received a welcome in the villages they visited (cf. 9:51–53; 10:10–12). But in this case Martha enthusiastically welcomed Him into her home and entertained Him as a highly-prized guest. Martha is an Aramaic name that means “mistress” (i.e., a female head of a household), which suits her character and position. She may well have been a widow, since there is no mention of her husband and Luke describes the place as her home. Since she is usually mentioned first when the sisters are named together (John 11:29–30; 12:2–3), Martha was probably the older of the two. Along with her sister, Martha evidently was a believer in Jesus, since she called Him “Lord”(v.40).