27 The expert in the law answered Jesus’ question correctly. He summed up the entire law by quoting the two greatest commandments (see Matthew 22:40; Mark 12:30-31 and comment).
28 Then Jesus said, “Do this and you will live; that is, obey these two commandments perfectly and you will live.”
Jesus did not mean that a man can be saved by obeying the law, because man is saved by faith alone (see Galatians 2:15-16 and comment). The reason that man cannot be saved by the law is that no man (except Christ) has ever been able to obey the law perfectly (see Galatians 3:10; James 2:10 and comments). Who can ever perfectly obey the two great commandments all the time? No one. Only when we believe in Christ and His love is poured out into our hearts (Romans 5:5) can we begin to obey these two commandments. Without faith, there can be no true love. Only by faith expressing itself through love (Galatians 5:6) can a person inherit eternal life.
29 The expert in the law was not happy with Jesus’ answer. He knew he had not loved God as he ought. He knew he had not loved all men. For example, he had not loved Gentiles. Most Jews did not consider Gentiles to be their “neighbor.” They claimed that the second commandment about loving one’s neighbor did not include loving Gentiles. The expert in the law hoped that Jesus would agree that Gentiles were not “neighbors”; then he would not feel so guilty for not having loved them. He was trying to justify himself. He preferred to show how good he was, rather than to learn how bad he was.
Then Jesus, through this parable of the Good Samaritan, told the expert in the law that all men—both Jew and Gentile—were his neighbors, and that he must therefore love all men, not just his friends (Matthew 5:44). In the parable it was the non-Jew, the Samaritan,24 who was obedient to the law, not the two proud unmercif ul Jews. It was this Samaritan who was closer to the kingdom of heaven than the Jewish priest and Levite (verses 31-32).
30 Jericho was a city eighteen miles east of Jerusalem and 3300 feet lower in altitude. The road between Jericho and Jerusalem was steep and rocky. The area was a hide-out of robbers, and people were of ten robbed along the way. The parable may have been based on a true occurrence.
31-32 The priest and the Levite25 were considered the most righteous of the Jews. Yet they were too busy to show love to their fellow Jew who had been beaten by robbers. Perhaps they had important work to do in the temple and could give no time to help their neighbor.
33-35 But a Samaritan stopped. Even though the Samaritans were not full Jews, and even though the Jews and the Samaritans usually hated each other, this Samaritan showed mercy on the Jew who had been robbed.
He didn’t only show sympathy. He took complete care of the injured man. He treated his wounds. He took him to an inn. He paid all his expenses. This is what it means to love your neighbor. Therefore, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth (1 John 3:18).
36-37 The expert in the law had asked, “And who is my neighbor?” (verse 29). The answer: All men are our neighbors, especially those who are in need.
But the parable asks another question: Am I a neighbor? Do I behave like a neighbor? It is more essential to ask ourselves that question than to ask who our neighbor is. The despised “unclean” Samaritan was the true neighbor, and therefore he was the one who would inherit eternal life.
Jesus said to the expert in the law, “Go and do likewise. As that Samaritan did for the injured Jew, so you go and do likewise for anyone who needs your help—even for a Samaritan.”
38-39 Martha and Mary lived in Bethany, near Jerusalem (John 11:1-2). When Jesus came to their home, Martha busied herself preparing the meal. But Mary, instead of helping her sister, remained with Jesus listening to His words. This is the same Mary who on another occasion anointed Jesus with precious ointment (Mark 14:3; John 12:1-3).
40 Martha was distracted. She desired to prepare a good meal for the Lord, but she was anxious about it. She complained about her sister. She rebuked Christ. “Don’t you care?” she said to Him. “I have all this work and my sister doesn’t help me.”
41-42 Then Jesus gently told Martha that she should not be anxious. She should not rebuke her sister. “Mary has chosen what is better.” Mary had chosen to listen to the words of life. By listening to Jesus, by desiring to be with Him, she was showing Him honor. She was also receiving the blessing of His fellowship, which Martha, because of her anxiety and complaining spirit, could not enjoy.
In preparing the meal Martha was doing a good thing. She also was showing love to Jesus through her service (1 John 3:18). But she was wrong to worry and fret. It is not wrong to be busy in serving; it is wrong, however, to be distracted in serving. She was also wrong to complain about her sister. The Apostle Paul writes: Do everything without complaining or arguing (Philippians 2:14).
Notice that Jesus does not tell Martha to sit down and listen. Neither does He tell Mary to get up and help her sister. Both sisters were doing what was pleasing to the Lord; one was serving, one was listening. Both things are necessary and good. Some Christians spend more time in service and different kinds of work, while other Christians spend more time in prayer and meditation and worship. Let them not criticize each other. Let everything they do be done out of love for Christ, and Christ will be pleased.
In our individual Christian lives, there should be some balance between the time we spend in service and the time we spend in prayer and worship. If we do not pray and worship, our service becomes dry and powerless. On the other hand, if we do no works of service, our religion becomes dead (James 2:17). Let each of us seek God’s guidance concerning how much time we should spend in service and how much time we should spend in prayer and worship.
However, let us not forget what Jesus said to Martha: “… only one thing is needed” (verse 42). That thing is spiritual fellowship with Christ. if a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5). Mary knew this; she had chosen what is better. Fellowship with Christ will not end with our death, but our service will. Mary’s fellowship with Christ will not be taken away from her. Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39).
It was not what Martha and Mary were actually doing that was important to Christ; it was their attitudes. Martha had the wrong attitude, and Mary, the right one. If Martha had had the right attitude, she could have enjoyed fellowship with Christ in the midst of her duties. On the other hand, Mary could have been sitting at Jesus’ feet for the wrong reason—such as laziness. It is not what we do that is most important; it is why we do it. Martha was rebuked for her worldly anxiety, not for her serving. Mary was commended for her love for Jesus, not for her sitting. Let us all remember that there is only one thing needed no matter what we are doing: fellowship with Christ. That can never be taken away from us.