The Samaritans. The Samaritans descended from the Israelites of the Northern tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. However, Jews regarded them as having doubtful lineage on account of intermarriage with the Gentile peoples imported by the Assyrians after they conquered the northern kingdom in 721 BC and sent some Israelites into exile. Besides these ethnic tensions, there was an enduring religious rift associated with the Samaritans’ worship on Mt. Gerizim instead of in the Temple at Jerusalem. The Hasmonean Jewish ruler John Hyrcanus destroyed the Samaritan temple on Mt. Gerizim in 111 BC. Later, under the Roman prefect, Coponius, some Samaritans struck back by littering the Jerusalem temple with human bones at Passover, thus defiling it. Moreover, when Cumanus was the Roman procurator ( AD 48-52) Samaritans from the border village of Ginae killed a group of Galileans passing through Samaria on the way to Jerusalem for a feast.
This background of hostility explains the rejection of Jesus by the Samaritan villagers but also makes the parable of the good Samaritan particularly effective for teaching love of neighbor. Jesus’ healing of ten lepers also breaks down the enmity, as one of them, a Samaritan, returns to thank him. Luke also wrote the Acts of the Apostles, and he is setting the stage for Acts, where the Gospel is proclaimed to Samaria. In the new community that emerges in the land of Israel, animosity can be overcome: “The church throughout all Galilee, Judea and Samaria was at peace” (Acts 9:31). The regathering of the Samaritans thus forms part of the program of Israel’s restoration in Luke-Acts. Go and do likewise. The good Samaritan showed mercy by caring for the sick man. Catholic tradition has highlighted such corporal works of mercy, which also include feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, visiting the imprisoned. Also emphasized are the spiritual works of mercy, which include instructing others in the faith, practicing fraternal correction, giving advice or consolation to those who need it, forgiving and being with those who wrong us and praying for the living and the dead. What works of mercy can I carry out in order to love my neighbor? The commentator goes on to say that the good Samaritan’s compassion is manifested in a series of actions: he cared for the beaten man; he used resources he had available (oil, wine, animal); his money (2 silver coins); his time; he gets help (the innkeeper); he will follow up. But the Torah teacher takes the opposite perspective to what Jesus means. The thinks the neighbor is the one who is the object to receive love. “Jesus instead presents the neighbor as the subject who gives love.” The teacher finds it difficult to identify with the good Samaritan. Readers are summoned to become neighbors even to their enemies, by doing “mercy” to them. In that way, they will do the commandment and live.
Luke 10:38. On the journey to Jerusalem, the group stops in Bethany at the home of Mary and Martha, who are sisters. They have a bother, Lazarus, whom we will see later. Martha runs around preparing a meal while Mary sits at the feet of Jesus listening to the gospel. Martha complains to Jesus that Mary ought to be helping her, but Jesus tells her that Mary “has chosen the better part.” Martha refers to Jesus as “Lord,” and he is increasingly addressed as “Lord.” Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet, assumes the posture of a disciple. She listens to him speak the “word.” The voice at the Transfiguration said of Jesus: “Listen to him,” and Mary is taking advantage of the opportunity to do so (10: 39).
10: 40. Martha, on the other hand, is distracted by the work of providing a meal for her guests. Her efforts to serve Jesus are praise-worthy, of course. But there is a hint of a shortcoming in the description: she is too busy to pay attention to Jesus’ words. She wants to take her sister away from Jesus. She asks him to intervene: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me alone to do the serving?….tell her to help me,” she commands.
10: 41-42. Jesus said affectionately: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried.” Jesus had warned that anxieties, like thorns, can choke a person’s response to the Word. He later cautions against being anxious and allowing oneself to be weighed down with the anxieties of life. Jesus explains that only one thing is necessary: listening to him. In other words, the aspect that takes priority when Jesus is “welcomed,” is welcoming–in other words, listening to——his message of salvation, as Mary was doing.
Active and Contemplative. From early on in Christian history, Martha and Mary have been understood as signifying the active life and the contemplative life. For contemporary Christians, it is helpful to emphasize the unity of these two dimensions of their lives: union with God through prayer overflows into all one’s activities, so that they bear fruit.