John Kilgallen, «Martha and Mary: Why at Luke 10,38-42?», Vol. 84 (2003) 554-561
Given that Luke has wide freedom to arrange his stories as he thinks best, one looks to the material surrounding the story of Mary and Martha to better understand why that story is in its present place. It seems best to think of this story as an affirmation of the teaching of the ‘one thing necessary’, the teaching within the story of the Good Samaritan. Indeed, the Mary-Martha story underlines the Lucan emphasis on the primacy of all Jesus’ teaching.
I. The teaching of Luke 10,38-42
Given that Luke has placed the Martha-Mary story where it now is, what is it that he has placed? That is, what does this story have to offer? Analysis shows that the story highlights the saying of Jesus, that the ‘good portion’6 is ‘hearing the word’ of the Lord. Certain other observations are also indicated; Mary will not have this portion taken7 from her, Martha’s worries are of less concern than is listening to the word of the Lord — but these observations clearly flow from the supreme value of ‘hearing the word’ of the Lord, and reflection upon them more surely identifies what is the central affirmation of the story.
The meaning of the Martha-Mary story is clear; what might be its usefulness, not now in regard to its inner affirmation, but in its influence on something external to vv 38-428 — given, as noted, that Luke insists that the story be told now. In this regard, we look for correlations9 which might create a situation in which the ‘hearing the word of the Lord’ is significant. For reasons that will become apparent, I look to what precedes 10,38-42, rather than to what follows it.
II. Luke 10,38-42 and Luke 10,24
Mary is depicted in Luke’s story of the two sisters as one who ‘was listening to the word’ of Jesus. It is this listening10, or hearing, the word that will not be taken from her. Jesus had only shortly before been speaking about the profound, indeed unique relationship he11 enjoys with his Father: only he knows the Father (10,22). This relationship seems mentioned because it affects Jesus’ disciples; they are blessed because they are the ones to whom Jesus reveals the Father — all disciples will enjoy the knowledge Jesus has of his Father. Another way of emphasizing their blessedness is to say, as Jesus does, that his disciples see and hear what even prophets and kings longed to see and hear and did not. Such is the blessing of the disciple: to hear and see