Mary gets to keep her choice, and we do too.
This is the last in a series of twelve reflections on the story of Mary and Martha, found in Luke 10.38-42. If you’d like to read the whole series, start with the first post , where they are listed in full at the end of the piece.
As always, let’s begin with the text:
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” — Luke 10.38-42 (NRSV)
A good way to listen to Jesus.
It won’t be taken away
Mary made a good choice to sit and listen to Jesus. Was it easy for her to decide, or did she weigh her options? Whatever her process was, Jesus said she “chose the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Sometimes, I want to make a good choice because I want praise. I want to get an “A” from Jesus in class. Although this motivation can be effective, it is rather temporary. The praise that comes with an “A” only lasts for a little while, until the next assignment comes and you want another “A.” And another. Until you spiral into a place of wanting lots of “A“s more than you want a relationship with jesus.
But in reality, making a good choice has inherent benefits, and I think that is the piece that won’t be taken away. The other day, I had an unexpected 35 minutes in the middle of the day open. The girls were happily occupied working on some drawings, and I could have worked on email or finished the dishes. But I was suddenly inspired (by God’s grace) to say, “Hey! Let’s take half an hour and read together.” This turned out to be one of my moments of consolation for the day. That feels like the part that won’t be taken away.
For Mary, choosing the better part means that she experiences closeness with Jesus, and that connection can never be taken away. Unlike viewing Jesus as a teacher who judges your performance, we can be like Mary and sit with him — not for the grade, but for the intimacy.
What choices do I see in my days?
When can I choose “the better part”?
Do I need to ask Jesus for help in making a good choice?
How can I savor the good gift I received from making that choice?
“[This] story is about fundamental priorities. [A woman] is not ultimately defined by the excellence of the table she spreads but on spreading her heart open to God’s Word.” (WBC, pg 575.)
In the end, what I really want to know is this: how can I have a relationship with Jesus (like Mary) while also taking care of business (like Martha)? I don’t think the point of this passage is to say that work and hospitality is not important, just that a person’s priorities can become easily disordered. The works seems to really be done in the relationship. As I listen to Jesus, I can get better at hearing what tasks are important and what can be left for later (or even scratched off the list). “Listening to the word is eternal.” (ACCS p. 183.) This listening relationship with Jesus is the place where my to-do list gets a major edit and where I receive the gift of his presence that accompanies me all day. And that is something I definitely need.
Resources used in this piece:
The Women’s Bible Commentary
The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Luke (New Testament Volume 3)