In Luke 9:51–19:27, we find the record of Jesus’ final journey from Galilee, where He conducted most of His earthly ministry, to Jerusalem, where He died and rose again. We should not think, however, that Luke necessarily describes this journey in geographical or chronological order. Instead, it seems that to some degree Luke arranged the events of this journey topically.
One reason for believing this is found in today’s passage, which describes Jesus’ visit to the home of Mary and Martha. These are almost certainly the same women identified as the sisters of Lazarus in John 11:1. John tells us that they lived in Bethany, a small village just outside Jerusalem, which means that Luke 10:38–42 seems to describe something that took place there. Later in Luke’s account of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, we find Jesus much farther north, between Samaria and Galilee (Luke 17:11), which is impossible if Luke is telling the history in strict geographical or chronological order. At least here in Luke 10, a topical arrangement makes more sense, with Luke telling us about Mary and Martha because the account shares a feature with the parable of the good Samaritan given just before it (Luke 10:29–37). It was unexpected that a Samaritan would help a Jew, and it was unexpected that a woman would learn from Jesus, for rabbis in those days did not take women as students. But Mary was a student of Jesus (Luke 10:38–42), for His teaching is for all people.
The point of this account of Jesus’ visit to Mary and Martha’s home is that disciples must take time to learn from the Savior. Martha complained that she was doing all the work to provide hospitality to Jesus while Mary listened to His teaching, but Jesus told Martha that in this case, Mary had chosen the more necessary task. His point is not that hospitality is a bad thing; after all, the New Testament says that we must show hospitality (Heb. 13:2). Instead, we are not to be so consumed with doing a good thing that we do not stop to learn from Jesus. John Calvin comments that in telling Martha that Mary had chosen the necessary thing and the good portion (Luke 10:42), “Christ does not mean that every thing else, with the exception of this one thing, is of no importance, but that we must pay a proper attention to order, lest what is accessory—as the phrase is—become our chief concern.” We must have our priorities straight, making sure that we are receiving regular instruction from Christ even as we do other good deeds.