(1) After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also.—Some MSS. of importance give “seventy-two,” but the evidence preponderates in favour of the reading “seventy.” The number had a threefold significance. (1) Seventy elders had been appointed by Moses to help him in his work of teaching and judging the people (Numbers 11:16), and to these the spirit of prophecy had been given that they might bear the burden with him. In appointing the Seventy our Lord revived, as it were, the order or “school” of prophets which had been so long extinct. The existence of such men in every Church is implied in well-nigh every Epistle (e.g., Acts 13:1; Acts 15:32; 1 Corinthians 12:28; 1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 Thessalonians 5:20), and the fact that St. Paul and others join together the “Apostles and Prophets” as having been jointly the foundation on which the Church was built (Ephesians 2:20; Ephesians 3:5; Ephesians 4:11; 2 Peter 3:2), makes it probable that the latter words, no less than the former, pointed in the first instance to a known and definite body. The Seventy presented such a body. They, though not sharers in the special authority and functions of the Twelve, were yet endowed with like prophetic powers, and the mysteries of the kingdom were revealed to them (Luke 10:21). (2) As the Sanhedrin or great Council of scribes and priests and elders consisted of seventy members besides the president, the number having been fixed on the assumption that they were the successors of those whom Moses had chosen, our Lord’s choice of the number could hardly fail to suggest the thought that the seventy disciples were placed by Him in a position of direct contrast with the existing Council, as an assembly guided, not by the traditions of men, but by direct inspiration. (3) But the number seventy had come to have another symbolical significance which could not fail to have a special interest. Partly by a rough reckoning of the names of the nations in Genesis 10, partly on account of the mystical completeness of the number itself, seventy had come to be the representative number of all the nations of the world; and so, in the Feast of Tabernacles, which in any harmonistic arrangement of the Gospel narrative must have almost immediately preceded the mission of the Seventy (see Note on John 7:2), a great sacrifice of seventy oxen was offered as on behalf of all the non-Israelite members of the great family of mankind (Lightfoot, Hor. Hebr. in Joann. 7). Bearing this in mind, and remembering the words that our Lord had spoken during that feast as to the “other sheep, not of that fold” (John 10:16), which He had come to gather, we may see in what is here recorded a step full of meaning, a distinct and formal witness of the future universality of the Church of Christ. The omission, in the charge addressed to them, of the command given to the Twelve against entering into the way of the Gentiles or any city of the Samaritans (Matthew 10:5) is on this view full of interest.
The question, of course, occurs to us how it was that such a mission should have been omitted by St. Matthew and St. Mark. To this, only partial answers can be given. (1) The mission belonged to the last period of our Lord’s ministry, where their records are comparatively scanty, and was confined to the region, apparently of Peræa and Judæa, which He was then about to visit. (2) It was one in which, from the nature of the case, the Twelve were not sharers, and which, therefore, naturally came to occupy a less prominent place in the recollections of those from whom the narratives of the first two Gospels were primarily derived.
The labourer is worthy of his hire.—See Note on Matthew 10:10. The exact reproduction of the words by St. Paul in 1 Timothy 5:18, as a citation from “the Scripture,”’ is every way interesting. The Apostle could scarcely have failed to have become acquainted, during his long companionship with St. Luke, with the materials which the Evangelist was collecting for his great work. We can hardly doubt, accordingly, that he quotes this as one of the sayings of the Lord Jesus, as he quotes another in Acts 20:35, and clothes it with the same authority as the older Scripture. On this assumption, the Gospel of St. Luke must have been, in part, at least, written and recognised at the time when the Pastoral Epistles were written.
Lord, even the devils are subject unto us.—Better, the demons. The tone in which the disciples speak is that of a joyful surprise. They had not looked for such great and immediate results. They had thought that the power to cast out demons had been confined to our Lord’s immediate action or to that of the Twelve, and they found that they too possessed the power to rescue the spirits of men from thraldom. With them, as with others, the consciousness of a new power was attended with a new pleasure, in this case, with that of high spiritual exultation.
The question, though the same as that of the young man in Matthew 19:16, is not asked in the same tone. There it was asked by one anxiously seeking to inherit eternal life. Here there is a certain tone of self-conscious superiority, which required a different treatment. As the method of Socrates was to make men conscious of their ignorance of the true meaning of words which they repeated glibly, so here our Lord parries the question by another, makes him repeat his own formulated answer—an answer true and divine itself, identical with that which our Lord gave Himself (Matthew 22:37)—and then teaches him how little he had realised its depth and fulness. The commandment was “exceeding broad” above all that the teacher of Israel had imagined.
From Jerusalem to Jericho.—The journey was one of about twenty-one miles, for the most part through a rocky and desert country, with caves that were then haunted by bands of robbers, as they have been, more or less, in later times by predatory Arabs. In Jerome’s time it was known as the “red” or the “bloody” way, in consequence of the frequency of such crimes.
Fell among thieves.—Better, robbers, as elsewhere.
There came down.—Better, as before, there was going down.
A certain priest.—Jericho was at this time a priestly city, and so the journey of the priest from Jerusalem, as if returning from his week of sacerdotal offices there, has a touch of vivid naturalness. He, too, like the questioner, had been doing his duty to God, according to his measure of that duty.
Passed by on the other side.—The priest shrank, it might be, (1) from the trouble and peril of meddling with a man whom robbers had just attacked, and (2) from the fear of incurring a ceremonial defilement by coming into contact with what might possibly be a corpse before he reached it. He accordingly “passed by on the other side,” not of the road only, but of the ravine through which the road passed.
To an inn.—The word is not the same as that in Luke 2:7, and implies the Western type of hostelry, where the landlord provides for his guests, while in the earlier passage we have the Eastern caravanserai, where the guests simply find shelter, and arrange their meals for themselves.
Nothing should lead us away from recognising this as the main lesson of the parable. But there is another application of it which, within limits, is legitimate enough as a development of thought, and which has commended itself to so many devout minds, both in ancient and modern times, that it at least deserves a notice. Christ Himself, it is said, is the great pattern of a wide, universal love for man as man, acting out the lesson which the parable teaches in its highest form. May we not think of Him as shadowed forth in the good Samaritan, as accepting, in that sense, the name which had been flung at Him in scorn? Starting from this thought, the circumstances fit in with a strange aptness. The traveller stands as representing mankind at large. The journey is from Jerusalem, the heavenly city, the paradise of man’s first estate, to Jericho, the evil and accursed city (Joshua 6:17), the sin into which man entered by yielding to temptation. The robbers are the powers of evil, who strip him of his robe of innocence and purity, who smite him sore, and leave him, as regards his higher life, half-dead. The priest and the Levite represent the Law in its sacrificial and ceremonial aspects, and they have no power to relieve or rescue. The Christ comes and helps where they have failed. The beast on which He rides is the human nature in which the Word dwelt, and it is upon that humanity of His that He bids us rest for comfort and support. The inn represents the visible Church of Christ, and the host its pastors and teachers; even the two pence, perhaps, the ordinances and means of grace committed to the Church. There is an obvious risk, in all such application, of an element that is fantastic and unreal; but the main line of parallelism seems to commend itself, if not to the reason, at least to the imagination of the devout interpreter.
Martha.—The name does not appear in the Old Testament, and is Aramaic rather than Hebrew. It has a point of contact with secular history in having been borne by the Syrian prophetess who accompanied the Roman general, Marius, in his Numidian campaigns. Its meaning, as the feminine of Maran (= Lord), and therefore equivalent to the Greek Kyria, suggests the possible identity of the sister of Lazarus with the elect Kyria (or elect Lady), to whom St. John addressed his second Epistle. (See Note on 2 John 1:1.)
About much serving.—We may probably infer from this that our Lord had been invited as an honoured guest, and that Mary had been asked to meet Him; and, so far, the narrative agrees with what is suggested by the narrative of John 11 as to the social position of the household at Bethany. The use of a like word in Luke 12:42 suggests that this also may have passed from the abstract to the concrete sense, and have been used for a household of many servants as well as for the act of serving.
Came to him.—The Greek word implies something like a hasty movement to interrupt the calm tenor of the Lord’s discourse. The hasty vehement complaint that follows is quite in keeping with this.
That she help me.—More literally, that she join in helping.
Martha, Martha.—We note a special tenderness of reproof in the two-fold utterance of the name, of which this and the like iteration of “Simon, Simon,” in Luke 22:31, are the only examples in our Lord’s recorded utterances during His earthly ministry. (Comp. “Saul, Saul,” in Acts 9:4.)
Thou art careful.—The verb is the same as the “take thought” of Matthew 6:25, and throws light upon the meaning of that phrase.
Mary hath chosen that good part.—The Greek noun is very nearly the same as that which the younger son, in Luke 15:12, uses for “the portion of goods,” the good part or portion here being nothing less than the eternal life which is the gift of God. Here too we may trace something approaching to a half-playful mingling of the higher and lower meanings of the word which was used in the Greek version of the Old Testament at once for Benjamin’s mess, i.e., portion of food (Genesis 43:34), and for God as the “portion” of His people (Psalm 73:26). Even on the assumption that our Lord spoke in Aramaic, and not in Greek, a like play upon the word would have been equally possible.
The two sisters have come to be regarded as the representatives respectively of the active and the contemplative forms of the religious life, and there is, of course, a certain measure of truth in this view. On the other hand, however, it must be remembered that Martha’s activity, with its manifold distractions, was not Christian activity, and that Mary’s contemplation passed, when the time came for it, as in John 12:3, into full and intense activity. The contrast is rather that between singleness of heart and the character which St. James describes as “double-minded” (James 1:8), i.e., divided in its affections.