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.
It is clear from John’s Gospel1 that Martha and Mary have their home in Bethany, just outside Jerusalem; there is no reason to question the correctness of this Johannine geographical note2. Nor does there seem to be significant enough reason to suppose that the Martha and Mary of Luke 10,38-42 are not those who, according to John’s Gospel, live in Bethany. It is remarkable, then, that these women appear at the beginning of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem; they would most appropriately be introduced elsewhere in Luke’s story, i.e., somewhere around Luke 19 or 20, if Luke were following a strictly geographical scheme in bringing Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem. Luke does follow correct topography when he wants to: for instance, he places stories having to do with Jericho correctly, just before Jesus arrives in Jerusalem. Finally, one notes that, at Luke 10,38 there is only a vague reference to "a certain village" wherein Martha and Mary live. Is Luke unable to identify what we know to be the village of Martha and Mary3, or has he not more likely reduced the known, but inopportune village, to the unknown4?
All of the above rumination suggests that Luke has intentionally displaced the story of Martha and Mary; he wants the story now, in Chapter 10, and not any other place. And this leads to the question: why this story here in the journey narrative5? It is this question which this essay attempts to answer.