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Gospel according to Luke 10: 38-42 (NIV)
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Martha’s appeal was not merely a plea for help in getting essential jobs done quickly. She had a serious complaint against her sister Mary. That criticism of her sister was intended to draw Jesus into the fray on Martha’s side.
Jesus replied, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things.” Luke has recorded what Jesus taught about “worry”: “do not worry about how you will defend yourselves” (12: 11; 21:14), “do not worry about your life” (12: 22). Jesus’ reply to Martha was not meant simply to placate her; he chastised her. He wanted Martha to learn the same lesson he was teaching his disciples.
Was Martha’s distraction and “worry” a consequence of her upbringing? Was it deeply-embedded in her culture? If so, as Mary sat at the Lord’s feet, was she actually casting her cultural heritage aside in order to listen to what the Lord was saying? Was this actually an inspired counter-cultural decision by Mary because she realised the value of paying close attention to the words of the Lord as she sat at his feet?
Jesus told Martha that “Mary has chosen what is better.”
The word “chosen” is crucial. Mary had made a choice. Jesus recognised this. It was “better” to sit at the Lord’s feet and to listen to what he was saying.
God has given each of us the gift of free will. We are free to choose what we will do with our lives. We are free to choose to commit ourselves to the Lord, to follow and to obey him. Equally we are free to turn our backs on him.
Emulate Mary: choose the good portion. Choose what is better. Choose to follow Jesus.
Having chosen to live in faith-filled obedience to the Lord, how are we to do that? We do well to follow the example set by Mary and commended by Jesus. Figuratively speaking, sit at the feet of Jesus. What might that mean?
Learn from Jesus. Spend much time each day with him. Read his word as recorded for our teaching and our edification in holy Scripture. Meet with his people. Commune with him in prayer – privately on your own and corporately with other people who trust and follow him. Concentrate on listening to Jesus.
Learn from Martha and her response to Jesus’ presence in her home. Be aware of the culture in which you immerse yourself. Be conscious of where culture demands conformity and whether behaviour associated with conformity is God-honouring or is despising of God. Be critical of your culture, seeking always to perceive whether it is supportive of God’s kingdom and its flourishing or whether it is running counter to God’s way. If the latter, resist. Your resistance need not be flamboyant but it must be deliberate.