‘But one thing is necessary’ (Luke 10:42) – among others!

Luke 10:42        

            The Single Issue Syndrome

Handle cautiously any guy obsessed with ‘the single issue’. Egypt’s President Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood won an election on the sole issue of Islam but was soon forcibly removed from office. And any MP elected on some other single issue – racism, feminism, prohibition, immigration – is less likely to be re-elected than a candidate whose portfolio incorporates a wide range of interests.

After sharing most of her Christian life actively in one church, one member announced by letter that she was moving church, without first sharing her plan with anyone, so that her child might hopefully find a Christian best friend of the same age. There’s more to church life than that, and many ways of meeting and becoming friends.

            Luke’s detailed context of that famous single issue verse (see Luke 10:38-42)

Jesus told Martha that just one thing is necessary’ and her sister had ‘chosen the good portion’ [Greek meris is used by Luke elsewhere to indicate a ‘district’ in Acts 16:12 and an allotted territory in Acts 8:21 (= ‘lot’;  compare the Greek text of Psalm 16:5-6: ‘The Lord is the portion (= ‘lot’ meris) of my inheritance … I have a most excellent heritage’].  Mary, it would seem, was praised for her contemplative lifestyle as she sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching’ (Luke 10:42), while Martha was ‘distracted [perisparo] with much serving,’ says Luke (verse Luke 10:40); and distressed [merimnao] and disturbed [thorubadzo], said Jesus (verse Luke 10:41).

Nick Page argues in his ‘The Wrong Messiah’ that Martha’s agitation had been triggered by Mary’s positioning herself in the traditional male role of a disciple – literally ‘beside the Lord’s feet’ to imbibe his teaching. Martha, he reckons, probably felt strongly that a woman’s place was in the kitchen. Or was it because of the intensity of the times?

It would seem that from Luke 9:51 to Luke 10:42 Luke emphasises how the urgency of the late hour has thrown up a whole range of pressing single issues – each still a priority today:

  • the priority of pilgrimage (Luke 9:51-56) – Jesus, his ‘face set towards Jerusalem’ where he would soon be ‘taken up’, was joining pilgrims from the North (Bethsaida in Galilee, Luke 9:10 and a high mountain, Luke 9:38 – in Lebanon?) heading south for the festival (Luke 9:51,53) – we too must beware of settled complacency;
  • discipleship in the kingdom of God (Luke 9:57-62) – not ‘me first’ (Luke 9:59,61);
  • gaining a hearing for the gospel of the kingdom – out and about, but without luggage (Luke 10:1-16);
  • making sure one’s name is written in heaven’s register (Luke 10:17-20);
  • knowing the Son of God for oneself (Luke 10:21-24);
  • showing practical neighbourly love to strangers in need along our way (Luke 10:25-37);
  • attentively heeding Jesus’ teaching (= logos, Luke 10:38-42) – which Paul tells us should be evident in healthy church life (= logos, Colossians 3:16).  
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