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§ 229. The Family of Lazarus.—Martha and Mary; their different Tendencies. (Luke, x., 38, seq.)

A PRESSING call induced Christ to leave Peraea, where he found so susceptible a soil, perhaps sooner than he would otherwise have done.

About a mile and a half from Jerusalem, at the foot of the Mount of Olives, lay the village of Bethany, where dwelt a family, two sisters and a brother, with whom Christ had formed, during his repeated and protracted visits to the city, a close and affectionate intimacy. Luke has left us a description of this family agreeing perfectly (without design or concert) with that given by John619619   The passage in John probably refers to the earlier period of this intimacy. It is true, Luke (x., 38) does not mention the name of the village; the account transmitted to him probably did not contain it, and here, as in other cases, he would not insert the name merely for the sake of giving definiteness to the narrative. The event itself, as a very significant one, had been faithfully kept and transmitted; the locality, being unimportant to the interest of the event, was probably forgotten. It is true, the position of the passage, in the account of Christ’s last journey to Jerusalem, might lead to the inference that the place was at some distance from the city; but, as we have already said, the account itself mingles two journeys together, as is especially evident in the single case before us. De Wette has remarked this. Luke simply adhered to the account he had received, which gave him no information about the locality; this last we must learn from John. The probabilities, in regard to time, are favourable to our supposition. The undesigned coincidence, therefore, of John with Luke, in the description of the family, &c., is a strong proof of credibility. Strauss, however, adduces Luke’s silence in regard to Lazarus as invalidating John’s credibility, but without the slightest reason; Luke’s object was to make prominent the relation of the two sisters to Christ, and the mention of Lazarus was, there. fore, not at all necessary. (xi., 1-5). On one occasion when Christ was partaking of their hospitality, one of the sisters, Martha, showed more anxiety to provide for the bodily comforts of her exalted guest, and to give him a worthy reception, than to secure the blessings for her soul which his presence so richly offered; while her more spiritual sister, Mary, gave herself wholly to listening to the words of life from the lips of the Saviour. Martha, finding all the cares of the family thrown upon her, complained to Jesus thereof; and he made use of the occasion to impress upon her mind the general 337truth which he so often, and under so many diversified forms, taught to his hearers: “Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things, but one thing is needful;620620   This clause is wanting in Cod. Cantab., and other Latin authorities; but nothing would be lost to the sense even if it were left out; for “that good part which cannot be lost” is the “one thing” to which life should be supremely devoted, in contrast with the “many things” which waste and dissipate a divided mind. and Mary hath chosen that good part (that which is good in itself; the only worthy aim of human effort), which shall not be taken from her (a possession that shall be everlasting, not perishable, like these worldly things).”

It is wholly contrary to the sense of history to interpret this narrative [as some do] so as to make Martha represent the practical and Mary the contemplative tendency, and thence to infer that Christ ascribes superiority to the latter. The antithesis is between that turn of mind which forgets, in a multiplicity of objects, the one fundamental aim; and that, on the other hand, which devotes itself solely to the one object from which all others should proceed. Christ demands of his followers constant activity in his service, and therefore could not have approved an entirely contemplative spirit. What he honours in Mary is the spirit which ought to be the centre and animating principle of all activity. It is true, Martha is more practical and worldly; Mary more contemplative and spiritual; but these manifestations do not necessarily indicate character; although in this instance (and, indeed, commonly) the manifestation corresponds to the character. It was not necessary that Martha’s multiplied cares should distract her from the one thing needful; Christ blamed her, not for her cares, but for not making them subordinate: for so surrendering herself to them as to put the greater interest in the back-ground.


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