Evening Prayer October 20 (St. Luke)


This evening, we remember St. Luke, physician travelling companion of St. Paul, author of a Gospel and of Acts of the Apostles, and a consummate story-teller.

Who was St. Luke?

The New Testament mentions Luke by name three times. Paul’s letter to the church that he founded in Colossus [Col 4:14] calls Luke a physician. Both Philemon v 24 and 2 Timothy 4: 11 refer to Luke as a beloved friend and colleague of Paul.

Most scholars attribute both Luke’s Gospel and Acts of the Apostles to the same author. Thus. in the first-person accounts in Acts of St Paul’s travels, I assume that “we” means that Luke was one of Paul’s traveling companions.

My personal ‘take’ on Luke’s Gospel is that the author was a consummate story-teller. He wrote many of the best-loved Gospel stories. These include the Advent and Christmas accounts that we will follow next month. Today’s Scripture tells of Jesus’ visit to Martha and Mary.  It’s one of several stories that appear only in Luke’s Gospel.

Jesus at the home of Martha and Mary [Luke 10: 38-42]

This Gospel packs in a lot of ideas into just five verses. It follows on directly from the parable of the Good Samaritan. I’m sure that Luke chose the order of his stories about Jesus deliberately.

Who were Martha and Mary?

Martha and her sister Mary were such were important disciples that both Luke and John identify them by name. I imagine that they were among the women “who provided for Jesus out of their own resources” [Luke 8: 3]. Perhaps they were wealthy widows. In this passage they seem to be hosting a “meet and greet” between Jesus and their friends.

Here’s how I imagine the scene. Jesus is chatting in the living room. In a Middle-Eastern Jewish home, it would be obligatory to provide refreshments for the guests.  So, Martha is in the kitchen. In today’s world, she’s cutting sandwiches and getting coffee. As the evening goes on, Martha feels more and more resentful of Mary, who is in the living room with the guests. Eventually, she complains to Jesus about the situation. But instead of getting support, she gets what seems like a rather patronizing response. “Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. There is need for only one thing. Mary has taken the better part.”

This is a difficult passage of Scripture for me, because I instinctively side with Martha. That is simply my personality type. I know myself well enough.  I realize that I feel that I must keep the show on the road. So if I were at this soirée, I would be Martha.  I’d make sure that the guests were properly and hospitably cared for. And I would be quite happy to do so, until I realized that I was doing a lot more than my fair share of the work. Then I would be resentful.

But Jesus said that Mary “had chosen the better part”. In other words, this was a ‘one-off’. There wouldn’t be another opportunity for Martha to sit and listen. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem.

So when should I focus on loving my neighbour, and when should I take time to love myself?

In the story of Martha and Mary, Martha focussed on providing hospitality to her guests However, that made her resent her sister. Mary listened to Jesus.  She was apparently unaware of the need to offer hospitality.

But I think that Luke’s purpose telling the story is this. There are times for each of us to be Martha and times to be Mary. Our “inner Martha” or “inner Mary” are the opposites of how we instinctively behave.

Marthas like me need to get over our sense of duty and responsibility.  Some of the time (not always!). Conversely, Marys need to know when it’s time to help out. Otherwise, they come across as selfish.