Differences between Christians can collide on the most common occasions (vv. 38-39). Luke’s account does not identify the name of the village, but from John 12:1 we know it was Bethany because it was the town “where Lazarus was, which had been dead, whom he raised form the dead.” Luke notes that “a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.” That Martha was the mistress of the house may be inferred from John 12:2 which reports “they made him a supper; and Martha served.”
Mark 14:3 speaks about “Simon the leper” being in a house where Jesus was celebrating the feast of the Passover (Mk. 14:1). Mark also describes how an unnamed woman anointed the feet of Jesus with a costly oil. John 12:3 identifies her as Mary of Bethany. These references help us understand the relationship between Jesus and the town where Martha, Mary, and Lazarus lived. When He appeared there as described by Luke, we can infer He customarily used their home as His “home away from home,” that is, Nazareth.
In these innocent surroundings, tension between the two sisters developed. As Martha busied herself with the details involved in feeding her honored guest, Mary neglected the duties of a hostess and sat at Jesus’ feet, an understood position for a student showing respect for the teacher.
Her actions quickly elicited criticism (v. 40). Martha’s complaint about Mary’s leaving the serving to her is understandable for anyone who has hosted a meal for a notable guest and quickly discerns the need for assistance. Drink glasses need filling, bread in the oven has to be monitored, and so forth. Whatever the reasons for concern, at the feast of the Passover, also held in Martha’s house, Martha still served, apparently alone, because Mary had taken a pound of spikenard, a costly ointment, anointed the feet of Jesus, and then dried them with her hair (John 12:3). The depth of her feeling was made evident, because only prostitutes untied their hair in public.
Jesus dealt with Martha’s complaint in a spirit of reconciliation (vv. 41-42). He observed the obvious, that Martha had assumed the responsibility for “many things,” but his resolution is not so obvious. What was “that good part” to which He alluded? We preachers readily see a spiritual application, such as the need for a personal experience with the Lord, and so forth. He may have been more event oriented, as indicated. In that era, a meal usually consisted with only one dish. In that context, He was chiding Martha for being too sumptuous to the extent she left no time for basking in the glow of our Lord’s person. Whatever the cause, the issue was resolved amicably, as indicated by two events. First, he raised Lazarus from the dead. His love for the family became evident when He wept at their broken hearts (John 11:35). As a kind of footnote, we mention that He did not resurrect Lazarus. That event was initiated by the resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:20, 23). Second, Jesus ascended to heaven from the town of Bethany, according to Luke 24:50-51. Acts 1:9, 12 corroborates Luke’s statement without mentioning Bethany, as we noted earlier, was situated on the south slope of the Mount of Olives.
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