Choosing the Good Portion
Here we meet Mary and Martha in Luke’s Gospel. We see them in John’s Gospel as well, along with their brother Lazarus (11:1-12:11), all of whom live in Bethany, a couple of miles east of Jerusalem. They appear to be a very close family, although here is a little dust up between the sisters. It is all too real and common – something we could see happening within a family in our own day when guests are invited. Once again, we see the candor of the Scriptures as it depicts the foibles of human life in general.
We are familiar with the account: Jesus is teaching. Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet, which is where a disciple of a Teacher would be sitting. Martha is “distracted with much serving.” She approaches the Lord in what sounds like a rebuke: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But Jesus responds, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
The first thing I would discuss is that “Mary has chosen the good portion.” Sitting at the feet of Jesus is always the good portion. Listening and obeying Jesus’ word is the one necessary thing to do. Had Martha chosen to do the same, Jesus would have affirmed her, even if that meant that no one would be served. But Martha was an anxious person, worried that everyone who entered her house be met with hospitality. There is nothing wrong with that. Jesus does not condemn her for choosing her portion, but he does reprove her anxiety, and, by extension, her jealousy of her sister’s choice. I feel that Jesus is saying, “If you must serve, do so; but do not do it with resentment in your heart, and we shall thank you. Better yet, come sit down by your sister and listen without being so distracted, and we’ll all be just fine.”
The second point to make is the obvious inclusion of women to sit at the feet of Jesus. That Jesus doesn’t tell Mary to get up and help her sister is a huge statement. No, Jesus was not a feminist as some foolishly make him out to be, re-creating him in their image to serve their own purposes. But as the one through whom woman was created out of the body of man, she is affirmed as an equal partner. Both sexes have been redeemed by the same blood of the same Savior, and both need to listen to Jesus to exhort and admonish one another in love. There are few things more wonderful than sitting at the feet of Jesus together as husband and wife. As God’s gift of the one-flesh union on earth, it is meant to be a union at the feet of Jesus.