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1. After these things The preparatory doings of the last chapter.
Appointed In the Greek set forth, or publicly exhibited. The proper word to indicate the exhibition of a significant symbol. But inasmuch as ministers were so set forth or publicly inducted into their dignities, the word becomes synonymous with ordain, or to publicly appoint to office.
Two and two So that there were thirty-five different couples to go thirty-five different ways. Two were suited for mutual support and counsel; and, also, that by the mouth of two witnesses every thing might be established. Compare the two witnesses of Revelation 11:3; upon which Bishop Newton remarks, that reformers in different ages seem to come in pairs; as Moses and Aaron, Elijah and Elisha, Huss and Jerome, Luther and Melancthon; and, we may add, in a later reformation, Wesley and Fletcher.
Whither he himself would come In Greek whither he was about to come; that is, provided the proper conditions should exist. It is not likely that our Lord would, or did, in fact, expect to visit the thirty-five different localities. But these Seventy are a miniature of the progress of the gospel in the Gentile world. They are the representatives of the preachers of the gospel, to herald the goings of Jesus in all the earth.
§ 80. COMMISSIONING OF THE SEVENTY, Luke 10:1-16 .
Our Lord having finally withdrawn his rejected ministry from Northern Palestine, and having arrived at the northern boundary of Judea on his last setting his face in that direction, proceeds to perform, in the midst of apparent dejection, a public symbol of future triumph. He selects from the messengers mentioned in the last chapter, from the candidates so well sifted in its closing verses, and probably from some of his friends in Judea, a body of Seventy to perform a mission of heralding his name and preaching through city and country.
Of the commissioning of the SEVENTY, Luke gives the sole account; and his narrative is limited to three paragraphs. Of the brevity of the account, imaginative men, especially among papists, have taken advantage, to fill up the number with names like Mark, Matthias, and Luke himself, and a sufficient catalogue of fictitious names. Rationalists, on the other hand, have used the fact that no reference is ever afterwards made to the Seventy in apostolic history, to discredit the truth of the account. To this cavil it may be perhaps a sufficient reply to say, that Luke is the sole author of later apostolic history; and it can hardly be supposed that he would by such omission slight or throw discredit on his own statement. And a still more conclusive reply is furnished, as will soon appear, from the transient character of the symbol. But why the precise number Seventy?
Grotius tells us that as the Jews, for smaller bodies of select men customarily used the number twelve, so in the larger they used the number seventy. The former number was doubtless founded upon that of the twelve sons of Jacob, and thence the twelve tribes of Israel; the latter had some respect to the seventy souls who came with Jacob into Egypt; or, rather, we may perhaps say that the reckoning of this seventy was so adjusted in reckoning Jacob’s family, as to make a customary significant number. In the same manner Matthew so adjusts the reckoning of Christ’s genealogy as thrice to produce twice the sacred seven; just as seventy is that sacred number decimally multiplied. See supplementary note to chap. 6.
But there was something of a vibrating between the number seventy and seventy-two. The seventy translators of the Septuagint were in full seventy-two, (p. 10;) and seventy was in fact put simply as the round expression of the fuller number. As twelve was the number of the phylarchs or tribe-chiefs, so seventy-two was the number of elders chosen by Moses, being six from each tribe; which makes the sacred number twelve multiplied by its own half. And then seventy (the round for seventy-two) were the palms, and twelve the springs of Elim. Exodus 15:27. Seventy was the number of the Jewish Sanhedrim. So Josephus tells us that Varus sent twelve Jewish legates to the Jews of Ecbatana; and by the Jews of Ecbatana seventy legates were sent to Varus to plead their cause, all of whom he slew. Josephus himself, when sent to regulate the affairs of Galilee, choose seventy colleagues. In the siege of Jerusalem there were seventy citizens chosen as a body of judges. As twelve was the number of the tribes of Israel, so seventy is the ritual number of the nations of the earth, and seventy the ritual number of Gentile dialects. At the Feast of Tabernacles, whither Jesus was now going, the Jews were accustomed to sacrifice seventy bullocks in behalf of the Gentile nations.
We may now see the reason for the selection of the number Seventy, and the probable significance of this body. This college of ministry, next in rank to the twelve, was appointed to herald the way of Jesus. But as the twelve had reference to the tribes of Jews, so the Seventy were the symbol of the preaching of the universal gospel to all the nations of the earth. It is true that the twelve, independently considered, were the ministry for the whole world. But just as Peter, though a universal minister, was the apostle of the circumcision in comparison with Paul the apostle of the Gentiles, so the twelve, though absolutely a universal ministry, were a Jewish ministry in comparison with the Seventy. This general view (adopted by such scholars as Weiseler, Tischendorf, and Ellicott) will perhaps increase in apparent probability as we proceed.
What the Seventy were to Christ, his missionaries, that the demons were to Satan, his emissaries. The downfall of the emissaries is revealed to the missionaries; the downfall of the prince of darkness is revealed to the prince of light. See notes on Luke 10:17.
3. Go your ways Take your various routes. This address to the Seventy is much on the model of that to the twelve in Matthew 10:0. It has, however, no limitation to the house of Israel, or prohibition from Samaria. On the other hand, the powers are less extensive, and the prediction of persecutions is briefer.
7. Go not from house to house Spend not your time in convivial visits.
13. Woe… Chorazin… Bethsaida As Jesus has just left these cities, this is the last sad reference he makes to them. It expresses in language what the wiping the dust from the feet does in action. And this verse indicates that the sending forth of the seventy could have been on no later occasion.
15. Thou, Capernaum In neither of the awful maledictions upon the incorrigible cities, as reported by different evangelists, does Jesus include Nazareth. The reason assigned for this by commentators, namely, that its inclusion might have been attributed to personal resentment, would apply equally well to either of the cities by whom he was rejected. May we not rather suppose that it was a manifestation of human tenderness for the home of his mother and of his own childhood? Nor has Nazareth so been blotted from existence, like the others, as that its site is doubtful.
The Seventy went their ways, and Jesus proceeded to Jerusalem, where took place the events of the FEAST OF TABERNACLES. John 7:14; John 10:21. Luke, however, as if to complete the history of the Seventy in one passage, immediately subjoins their return.
17. The seventy returned How long their absence we know not; but the most obvious place to assign their return is at or near Jerusalem, soon after the Feast of Tabernacles. As they were formally and solemnly assembled when assigned and sent, so it is plain from the account, that they now appear in full body at the appointed occasion to resign their significant offices. As they present themselves, seventy strong our Lord may be supposed to face them at the head of his Twelve, who are in the background. See Luke 10:26.
With joy But it is remarkable that, jubilant as they were upon this occasion, their rejoicing is not over souls or people converted, or houses or paths opened to our Lord. It does not appear that a single field of harvest was found for a divine laborer. But their joy is over a deeper success than even that. We understand that as they went forth in their respective character as symbols of a future ministry of Christ, it pleased the Father Almighty to vouchsafe to them that superior token of success which declared the complete triumph on earth of the gospel they preached.
Even the devils Rather demons, which in Greek is properly a different word from devil. It is to be regretted that our translators have used the same word for both. The word devil is seldom used in the original in the plural, and commonly signifies Satan, the Prince; while all the inferior evil spirits are δαιμονια , demons. The demons, it was, who possessed men. The demons were held to possess the power of working evil miracles, (compare Revelation 10:21 with John 8:44;) to utter pagan oracles; and to lurk in the idols of the heathen which are hence called demons, 1 Corinthians 10:20; Revelation 9:20; and hence the gods of the Pagan Mythology were held by the early Christians to be demons.
Are subject unto us They are not merely cast out, but subjected, subdued, and tamed.
In thy name It is by our act but in thy name; ours is the joy, but thine the glory. Hence, though our Lord cautioned them, he did not condemn their joy. The minister may rejoice in the happy effect of his own preaching; he may enjoy his work, if the glory be Christ’s and not his own. And when we remember that the casting out of demons was not included in their commission, and that the apostles themselves had but lately failed in their attempt to perform that work we shall easily see that there was peculiar ground of joy. But there was, perhaps, a higher meaning in the subjection of demons than they supposed. As Satan, the Prince of demons, is opposed to Christ, so these demons, his angels, were opposed to these human angels or messengers of Christ. They had, at his advent, themselves come forth as if in an abortive attempt, by possession, to rival his incarnation. And when these demons were subdued before these messengers it was as a symbol, sent from the Father, of the subjection of the powers of evil in the world to the rule of Christ. The perception of this fact by the Saviour was to him a higher joy than the Seventy knew, as will next perhaps clearly appear.
§ 85. RETURN OF THE SEVENTY, Luke 10:17-24 .
A reference to our Historical Synopsis (vol. 1,) as well as to the Harmony on p. 101, will show that the events of the Feast of Tabernacles intervene between the departure of the Seventy and their return.
18. I beheld Satan Beheld here is in the Greek imperfect, I was beholding; and grammatically it describes the action as going on while another action is being performed. While you were subduing demons, I was beholding and contemplating Satan himself falling like lightning from heaven. As the yielding demons, so the falling Satan, was a visible revelation; each symbolizing the glorious future. But how could it be a literal reality which Jesus saw? We pretend not to know. If, however, we understand it aright, there was vouchsafed from the eternal Father, to the human thought of Jesus a view of the actual event of Satan’s primeval fall, seen in the past; with a true beholding like the divine seeing of a real event in the future. To the human perception of the man Jesus, that is, was presented the full view of that great event in the past eternity, known and remembered in the mind of the eternal Father, the first downfall of Lucifer from his heavenly state. That great reality he beheld, not so much in vision as in a perfect and divine perception, directed into the eternal past. This great reality was unveiled to him from God the Father (as intimated in Luke 10:21) as the symbol of Satan’s future overthrow in the great contest of Heaven and Hell on earth. It was perception rather than conception. As it was a reality, then, which the Seventy saw, so it was a reality which Jesus saw. And both realities were the type and prophecy of a divine future. We know not, however, upon what authority it is that some divines (as Stier) decide that Jesus could never receive revelation by vision. We see no proof that he who as a child grew in wisdom, who as a youth suffered temptation, who as a man was to suffer grievous eclipse of spirit on the cross, might not have had his moments of human cheer derived from divine revelation exhibited to his human vision.
19. Behold I give The perfect tense, I have given. The Greek perfect signifies a past act whose effect remains. I have given and the gift still remains. The gift was imparted in the first bestowment of their symbolical office, as one of its significant points. It was probably to cease with their office, though this may not be so certain. The same promise was made even to private believers in Mark 16:18, on which see our note.
Power to tread on serpents and scorpions And as the casting out of demons by the Seventy, and the fall of Satan, which Christ saw, were both actual and physical realities, so was this treading on serpents and scorpions an actual and physical reality. The Seventy during their mission should find a superiority to reptile venom one of their miraculous gifts, as did Paul at Melita. Acts 28:5. But all three of these realities were symbols of the spiritual. They were the type of the final
bruising of the serpent’s head. All the power of the enemy It is not sin which has produced physical evil in the world; for evil, accident, and death existed on earth, as geology shows, before Adam sinned. But sin excluded man from access to the tree of life, from which he had been immortal, and thus sin established that relation of the body and mind of man towards external nature, as that disease and death ensue. Sin, therefore, constitutes to man the power of the serpent’s venom and the scorpion’s sting. Christ here promises to these his followers some faint restoration of the Adamic superiority to the power of the enemy.
The enemy The chief and first old Serpent; the Satan of Luke 10:18, by whose first hostility all other venomous things are poisonous to man.
Hurt you This promise of miraculous power should doubtless be limited by the laws of miracle and faith, as defined in our note on Matthew 17:20.
20. In this rejoice not This is said comparatively. Rejoice not so much in a temporal power as in your own eternal salvation. Of what use is it to cast out demons, if you are finally cast away with devils forever?
Names are written in heaven The record or census of the names of all the living citizens was, as we find, kept in Jerusalem. Isaiah 4:3. So, figuratively, a book or census-roll of the living, a book of life, a celestial census, is kept in the New Jerusalem. “1 John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem… And there shall in no wise enter into it any… but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” The record of our names in this New Jerusalem census is evidence of our heavenly citizenship. Our names are there recorded when we are justified by a living faith. The retention of our names is conditional; that is, our names may be blotted out by sin, and thus our citizenship be lost. Psalms 69:19; Psalms 69:28; Exodus 32:31. “God shall take away his part out of the book of life and out of the holy city.”
Revelation 22:19. To cast out devils, to possess great power, may be a joyous prerogative; but what if it be enjoyed at the expense of a loss of our citizenship from heaven and name blotted from the Book of Life?
21. In that hour At the season of that transaction.
Father, Lord of heaven and earth For it was from God the Father Almighty, as above stated, that the omens of triumph were given, both to the Seventy and to the human spirit of the blessed Jesus.
Rejoiced in spirit Rather triumphed or exulted in spirit. The revelations of the hour gave to him his joy and triumph, as well as to the Seventy theirs.
From the wise and prudent From not only the statesman, the general, and the prince, but from the rabbi, the priest, and the pontiff; from Herod, Caiaphas, and Gamaliel. Jesus was soon to encounter these wise and prudent at the Feast of Tabernacles.
These two verses, 21, 22, show that Jesus, in illustrating his mystical unity with the Father, rose into precisely the style of his discourses as reported in the Gospel of John.
22. All things Thus far the face of Jesus has been toward the face of the Seventy the babes for whose faith he has been thanking his Father; but now, as indicated by the words turning to his disciples, (which, though omitted from the English translation, are admitted by the best editions of the Greek Testament,) he so turns as to address the disciples in connection with the Seventy; and then, at Luke 10:23, he so completely turns around and from the Seventy as to address the disciples privately; that is, separately.
This present verse expresses the divine correspondence between Father and Son which had been implied by the thanksgiving of the previous verse. See notes on Matthew 11:25-27.
23. Privately To congratulate them particularly on the blessedness of the Gospel revelation to them in connection with the Seventy. These scenes are unknown and unappreciated by the great ones of the day; but the holier spirits of past ages had, and the unborn spirits of future ages will have, their eyes fixed on them. There was for the former a Christ in prophecy, for whose form they had looked with anxious expectation; and there is a Christ in history for the latter, on whom the best thinkers look back with wonder.
24. Prophets As Moses, Isaiah, and Daniel.
Kings As David, Josiah, and Hezekiah.
The SEVENTY, as being a temporary symbol, now recede forever from view. Their collective name has not been recorded in later apostolic history; but their individual names were written in heaven, and the fulfilment of the predictions they symbolized is now taking place on earth. By consulting the Harmony, at page 101, it will be seen that after “the return of the Seventy,” which followed the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus “prosecutes a ministry in Judea” until the Feast of Dedication. In what section of Judea this ministry was prosecuted we are not informed, as Luke gives no notice of place. But as we know from other evangelists that the residence of the sisters of Lazarus was in Bethany, so we may infer that Eastern Judea, lying between Jerusalem and the Jordan, was the region of the whole period.
This entire period, extending from the Feast of Tabernacles to the Feast of Dedication, terminates at Luke 13:21. Though the contents are not equally striking with the lessons of the Peraean ministry, (Luke 13:23 to Luke 17:10,) this period contains some brilliant gems of divine wisdom. Beginning with the memorable parable of the Good Samaritan, (25-37,) we have next the home in Bethany, (38-42,) the establishment of the Lord’s Prayer as a permanent heritage, (Luke 11:1-13,) the sermon to the myriads, with its appendix, (Luke 12:1 to Luke 13:9.)
25. A certain lawyer The law embraced in this man’s profession consisted of two parts, the oral and the written. The written was contained in the Pentateuch of Moses; the oral was professedly derived by unwritten tradition from the seventy elders appointed by Moses to aid in the government of Israel. Numbers 11:16. Both these formed a mass of rules and regulations, civil, moral, and religious, boundless in extent, complicated in character, exercising a controlling influence over the whole of Jewish life, and forming a subject for an infinite variety of subtle distinctions, disputes, and questionings. The distinction between lawyer and scribe is not very clearly drawn. In fact the same person receives from different evangelists each of these titles. Matthew 22:35; Mark 12:28. The title of the scribe would seem to indicate a more special relation to the text of the law and its transcription; that of lawyer more to the study of its principles.
Stood up Rose to indicate his purpose of a discussion.
Tempted him That is, proposed to try his depth of intellect and knowledge of the law. There was no malicious purpose in the case. It was simply a challenge to a keen encounter of wits and professional knowledge. Among the Jews there was the disciple and the doctor; the former was one able to answer questions which he bad specially read up; the latter was ready to answer questions on any part of the law. Similarly the Sophists among the Greeks would take a seat in public, and offer to discourse on any topic that any one would please to propose.
What shall I do? Though the lawyer proposes this question in the first person singular, he means it rather for a theoretical than a practical question. He is no convicted sinner asking the way to eternal life.
§ 86. JESUS INSTRUCTS THE LAWYER BY THE PARABLE OF THE GOOD SAMARITAN, Luke 10:25-37 .
This narrative is given by Luke alone, without assignment of time or place. It has no apparent connection with the preceding narration. The parable of the good Samaritan, which is embraced in it, has been celebrated for ages for its beauty and moral power.
26. What is written… how readest thou? It is right to refer the lawyer to his own law-books, the minister to his Bible. Stier makes some beautiful points as to the how, here, as distinguished from the what. How we read, the spirit with which we inquire or study, is often of even more importance than what we read.
27. Thou shalt love All the being of man is, by this law, to be given up to the work of loving God: the immortal, the animal, the intellectual, the moral, all in their highest vigor and to their utmost strain. These are syllables easily spoken; and the lawyer utters them in the routine professional style. These two passages of the law may be found in Deuteronomy 6:5, and in Leviticus 19:18.
28. Answered… do and thou shalt live It requires no depth of penitent conviction in the lawyer, but simply a proper appreciation of the words he has uttered, to see that he is damned with all his race. For the direction do this governs both his whole past and his whole future. Has he kept it in the past? Will he, can he, keep it in the future? That is a hopeless case. But under this law the live depends upon the do. Death, therefore, is the only result.
29. Justify himself The lawyer sees that he is proved to have asked a question both very easy to answer and very condemning in the answer. To justify himself in both these respects, he would show that there is a deeper bottom to the subject; and that at that bottom he may be saved. He resorts for this purpose to a definition of terms. He might fight a battle upon several of the particular words. What is love? what is heart, strength, etc.? If they mean one thing, I am, indeed, damned. By the law, I, under such definition, get nothing but the hopeless knowledge of sin. But does the word mean this one thing? And to save himself he selects the term
neighbour. Who is my neighbour? If it mean my dear brother Jew, I have a good conscience and a safe soul; and the voice of all Jewry ratifies the conclusion. If, however, this Jesus replies, “Every member of the race is your neighbour, even the Samaritan,” then Jesus closes the door of popular prejudice against his conclusion. The lawyer will then have the bystanders on his side. Our Lord takes measures by the following parable to make this lawyer say it himself.
30. A certain man This man is doubtless to be supposed a Jew, since he goes from Jerusalem. But our Lord chooses to state him to be simply and purely a
man. Went down from Jerusalem to Jericho From the heights of the mountains upon which Jerusalem was built, to the vale of the Jordan, in which Jericho stood, (eighteen miles distant,) is almost a constant descent. This man, we may suppose, takes the usual route. Starting from what is now St. Stephen’s gate, through the eastern wall of Jerusalem, he crosses the garden and the southern slopes of the Mount of Olives to Bethany. Thence he proceeds through the road, once the channel of a stream and now a deep ravine; and at about ten miles from the city he enters that gloomy road through the desert wilderness called by St. Jerome the bloody way, and which from that time to the present has been the haunt of Arab and other robbers. “If we might conceive the ocean,” says Professor Hackett, “as being suddenly congealed when its waves are tossed mountain-high and pitching in wild confusion against each other, we should then have some idea of the scene of the desert in which the Saviour has placed so truthful a parable as that of the good Samaritan. The ravines, the almost inaccessible cliffs, the caverns, furnish admirable lurking-places for robbers; they can rush forth upon their victims unexpectedly and escape as soon almost beyond the possibility of pursuit.” Scarce a season at the present day passes in which some murder does not vindicate its title to the name of the bloody way.
Should the traveller have escaped unharmed, as the priest and Levite did, in due time there would open before him in rare beauty the plains of Jericho and the distant towers of that city of palms. It had been lately raised to its highest pitch of splendour by Herod the Great, who here built a favourite palace; and here, smitten, not by the vengeance of man, but by the hand of God, he died a most loathsome and terrible death. At the present day scarce do the ruins themselves remain to tell the spot where its towers, walls, and palaces stood.
Thieves Rather robbers. The thief takes by stealth, the robber by force.
Stripped him of his raiment The word raiment is not in the Greek. The stripping included, by force of the word, his property as well as his
raiment. Half dead So near dead as to be unable to help himself; and yet not without hope if he were but helped.
31. By chance By a concurrence or coincidence of the two things.
A certain priest Very naturally; for Jericho was by law a sacerdotal city; that is, a city for the residence of the priests who, in their turn, went up to Jerusalem to perform their office at the Temple. No less than twelve thousand priests here lived, one or more of whom were daily seen walking this route.
On the other side He availed himself of the broad road to sheer away from the victim.
32. A Levite A Levite was one of the tribe of Levi; a priest was of the family of Aaron in that tribe. The Levites performed the humble services of the temple, as cleaning, carrying fuel, and acting as choristers. Levites were also writers, teachers, preachers, and literati. The scribes and lawyers were frequently of this tribe, which, in fact, was set apart by Moses as the intellectual body in the nation.
33. A certain Samaritan To what we have said in regard to the Samaritan, in our note on Matthew 10:5, (to which we refer the reader,) we may add that it is denied by Dr. Trench, in his work on the Parables, that the Samaritan had any Hebrew blood in him. Before they were brought from Assyria the land of Samaria had been cleared of its Hebrew inhabitants to a man, and room made for a purely Gentile importation. Robinson tells us that the Samaritans of the present day present not the Jewish physiognomy. If so, the Samaritan was to the Jew a heathen in blood, a heretic and pretender in creed, a hereditary enemy in practice. The Jew derided the Samaritan as a Cuthite, abhorred his meals as swine’s flesh, and cursed him in the synagogue. The Samaritans shed the blood of Jewish travellers to the Passover, gave false signals to the near province as to the time of the new moon, and even by stealth polluted the Temple by scattering dead men’s bones in their holy places.
As he journeyed The Samaritan was not, like the others, a mere foot-passenger between the two cities; but he comes upon a beast, doubtless to be supposed an ass, from a distance. He is himself little likely to be treated with any favour in this latitude.
34. Went to him First he saw him at a distance, as lying in his blood, yet living. Next he had compassion on him. Third, he did not pass around him, nor pass on from him, but went to him. He closed the lips of his gashes and bound them up. He had probably none of the balsam for which Jericho was in that day famous. But he had some of that oil which the Orientals consider so beneficial in their hot climate, the expressed juice of the olive. See note on Matthew 6:17. So Jacob, even when a foot-passenger, carried his oil with him. Genesis 28:18. If the oil was brought from Samaria, it was celebrated for its excellence. Ancient physicians recommended the use of both wine and oil, the first to cleanse the wound, and the last to soothe and heal. Sometimes they were mingled into a compound called an oinoleum.
Brought him to an inn The Greek word for inn here signifies a Take-all or Khan; and one is mentioned by travellers as still standing by the road, claimed to be the inn here specified. See note on Luke 1:7.
35. Two pence Which, being the amount of the wages of a labourer for two days, was more than as many dollars’ worth in our time.
Take care of him The inns of the ancients supplied nothing but room and lodging, it being expected that the traveller carried his own supplies.
I will repay He asked no aid in his charity, as if the doing of good was his own business and its own reward.
36. Which… was neighbour? Dr. Trench, and other commentators of the present day, with doubtful correctness, we think, say that our Lord here reverses the question. The lawyer, they suppose, asks, Who is to be held as a neighbour to be loved? Whereas the real present form of the question is, Who becomes my neighbour by loving? Our Lord supposes the lawyer to identify himself with the wounded Jew; and thereby proceeds to force him by the parable to confess that even a Samaritan may be and is his neighbour. Neighbourship, then, depends not upon blood, or sect, or profession, but upon humanity. If the Samaritan, in spite of his being a Samaritan, may, as a man, with the true sympathies of a man, be my neighbour, then any being within the unity of the species, by his very being human, is my neighbour. And all this the Saviour clinches with his Go and do thou likewise. Deal with a Samaritan as this Samaritan deals with a Jew; and so you will, Jew and Samaritan, be neighbours. And then the lawyer finds himself placed upon that high platform by which the divine law of love, ignoring the divisions of race, nation, and color, unites mankind into one neighbourship and brotherhood. It is not without propriety that Luke, a Gentile, should furnish this most beautiful parable.
38. A certain village The village unquestionably was Bethany. Luke says nothing of Lazarus, and his account is evidently independent of John; and yet the character and condition of Mary and Martha so perfectly agree with their appearance in John as to furnish a striking proof of the truth of both.
Received him into her house Martha, it is evident, not only from this place, but from the order in which the three are named in John 12:5, was the housekeeper. Whether she was a widow or maiden lady we know not; we only know that she was mistress, if not proprietor of the house.
§ 99. JESUS RECEIVED INTO MARTHA’S HOUSE MARTHA AND MARY, Luke 10:38-42 .
The document which Luke here uses names no place, as he narrates not so much for the story as for the lesson it inculcates. If from the parable of the good Samaritan any one should infer that all religion consisted in outward works of benevolence, let him learn from the example of Mary, and the rebuke of Martha, that outward performance must be based upon an inner work. Let no man despise the studies of the priest or the religious meditations of the Levite because, in some cases, such men sink into a mere abstract religion and forget the active duty.
39. A sister called Mary We have met this sister and noted her before in our comment on Matthew 26:1-16. Twice is this Mary rebuked, and twice vindicated by her Saviour. Once the rebuke is among the twelve, and here by her own sister. In both cases the rebuke is for an act of devout love to him as Lord and Redeemer. And in the last instance a eulogy is pronounced commemorating her name and deed forever.
Sat at Jesus’ feet As her divine teacher and rabbi. So young Saul sat at Gamaliel’s feet. Acts 22:23. The rabbi’s seat was high above the disciple’s; so that the disciple was at his feet. The Jewish proverb was, “The disciples must soil themselves with the dust of the feet of the doctors.”
Heard his word In our note on Matthew 26:12, we note the fact that Jesus seems to impute to Mary a clearer knowledge of his approaching death than even his disciples had attained. May not this have been the time of his imparting to her that knowledge, and may not the solemn sacrifice of the atonement have been the absorbing Subject of this present converse?
No wonder, then, that she should less regard the cares of the house than her more responsible sister.
40. Cumbered Her mind was not only occupied, but disturbed and
distracted. Much serving The preparations of the apartments for her guest; furnishings, and feastings, and lodging. This was to honour him, but in a very physical way. To provide amply for her Lord was her duty, and practical proof of her love and faith, (as attested in John 11:20-28;) but there was a way more truly to honour him than by considering him as an epicure who had come for a banquet. Mary better understood that the Son of God sojourned but briefly upon earth, and that he devoted these few hours to their quiet home for higher purposes than the appetites of the table. Lord,
dost thou not care? Now, this is a nervous lady; and hers is a sharp, nay, a two-edged speech. It cuts Mary, and it cuts our Lord. Dost thou not care? This seems to mean that lazy Mary shirks, while Jesus, who ought to prevent, is indulging her.
Hath left me That is, she aided Martha for a while, until, perhaps, a sense of divine propriety said, “Enough; to provide more were an overdoing which he would blame;” and then she left, satisfied that she honoured the Lord more, and that she fulfilled the purpose of his visit better, by listening to the truths of the great Teacher than by providing a luxurious banquet or superabundant furnishings.
41. Martha, Martha There is a solemn reproof in this repetition. It implies a doubt and a danger.
Careful and troubled To be the best housekeeper in town adorns the Christian piety of a lady, if it in no way encroaches upon and destroys it. But it is sad when the ambition of a secular duty crowds out important spiritual thoughts and engagements; allowing no time for the cultivation of those germs of spiritual life which are the commencement here of a heavenly life hereafter. We venture to believe that Mary, who limited one duty by another, and gave each its just proportion, could, in her calmness and clearness, accomplish more even of secular duty than her older sister with all her fluster.
42. One thing is needful That is, one thing is a necessity. Your mind, in attending to a multiplicity, is forgetting the great one. These are desirable; that is indispensable. To make Jesus here say, as some commentators do, that but one dish instead of many is needful, is scarce less than burlesque; and such an interpretation should be carried out by making Mary’s good part signify the best bit in the dish! How unjustifiable is this low interpretation, (ancient though it be,) is clear from this fact, that neither dish nor food has been once named in the narrative. The many to which the one thing is contrasted does not indicate either. It is properly supplemented by our translators with the word things; as including the total multiplicity of her household cares. Against this distracting earthly many our Lord solemnly opposes the heavenly but forgotten one.
The term needful in the Greek is a noun necessity. What profit earthly activities, pre-eminences, gains, and enjoyments, if we miss that one absolute necessity, without which our all is lost!
Chosen that good part Our Lord does not imply that Martha has not so chosen; he only asserts that Mary has. His purpose is not accusation; but, after gentle reproof of the accuser, to vindicate the accused. In preference to the distracting many things, she has chosen the one good part, a share in the blessed eternal things.
Chosen It was the act of her own free will. Neither the good part, nor the choice, nor the will, was imposed upon her by any arbitrary decree or purpose of God, or any necessity of her own inward nature. As amiable natures as she, with as good opportunities, doubtless, rejected the Saviour; as with all her loveliness and opportunities it was in her power to do. And, hereby, we do not depreciate the grace of God, and the operations of the Spirit, or the fullness or the freeness of the Saviour’s atonement; all which enabled and offered, but never imposed or necessitated, her acceptance or her salvation.
Not be taken away from her As her free choice, through God’s grace, accepted and made that good part her own, so that same free choice can ever retain it. As God never will take it from her, so neither men nor devils ever can. She may renounce and throw it away; but not all the powers of evil can ever take it from her.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Luke 10". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany