Luke 10:1-24: In Matthew and Mark, Jesus sends out the disciples to be in ministry. Luke has already had Jesus do that. Here he sends out seventy or seventy-two (ancient manuscripts have both numbers) people to cure the sick and to share with others that the kingdom of God has come near. The number chosen, 70 or 72 is probably symbolic, reflecting the number of nations in the world according to Genesis 10. The sense is that Jesus will call people from every nation to continue his work of teaching, preaching and healing. The material in verses 13-16 probably reflect the experience of the early church. Jesus had been in some of these very communities, yet they never opened up to his message about the kingdom of God coming near, nor did they welcome those who came later in the name of Jesus. Just after these words of warning, we receive a report that the mission has gone well. Demonic powers have been subdued. For Luke, the church that comes after Jesus will have the ability to touch people’s lives with healing. It will help people overcome the demonic in their lives. Even if we struggle with the idea of literal demons, the image is powerful. Jesus tells them, however, not to get too caught up in the spectacular, but to simply be glad that they are part of the work of God’s kingdom, God’s dream for the world. That is more than enough to create joy – and Jesus relishes in the joy of the moment. He thanks God for those who have been about his work, many of whom were not considered very important by the standards of the time. Jesus is not against the wise and intelligent, but recognizes every good gift can also have a destructive shadow. Being smart can mean that one doesn’t listen to others, nor pay sufficient attention to what others have learned. Life itself is a gift, a gift from God and should be appreciated as such. When we come to “find” God, we usually find that God has already found us.
Luke 10:25-37: “Just then” – this time of rejoicing over the successful ministry of people sent by Jesus is interrupted by a question. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asks him what he thinks and his response is the commandment to love – to love God and love one’s neighbor as oneself. Jesus affirms his answer. In the other gospels, the question is about the greatest commandment. Here the question is different, and the response gets elaborated in light of a follow-up question – “who is my neighbor?” The story Jesus tells, which is reported only in Luke’s gospel, has become justly famous. In many ways, we hear in this story within its context the heart of Jesus message and ministry. Jesus has been teaching and preaching. Jesus has been healing. He has sent others out to do the same. Why? Out of love, out of compassion. His ministry has included many of the margins of the religious and economic life of the time. The hero of this story is someone the Jews of the time likely despised – a Samaritan. He is the model because he loves, because he has compassion. And Jesus has loved and given compassion in ways that scandalized the people of his time – he extended compassion to those considered unclean. The priest and the Levite are concerned that contact with a dead person will make them unclean. The Samaritan does not let the lesser rules of his religious faith get in the way of compassion and caring. “Go and do likewise.”
Luke 10:38-42: We are then presented with a very different story, again one only Luke tells. In the story of the Good Samaritan, action that is compassionate, loving and caring is encouraged. Doesn’t Martha seem to be doing just that, welcoming Jesus into her home and trying to make sure all the right things get done? Yet her sister Mary comes to sit at Jesus feet, to listen, to be his disciple. To many in Jesus time, that would have been an inappropriate role for a woman, but Jesus welcomed her to it. Martha is hospitable, but also “worried and distracted by many things.” It is this quality of her life that Jesus finds lacking. It is not that he does not appreciate what she is doing, it’s just that sometimes slowing down and listening and are sometimes more important. Welcoming, above all, is paying attention to the one being welcomed. Mary paid attention to Jesus. The Good Samaritan paid attention to the injured person on the side of the road. Martha was too worried and distracted to give anything much attention.