Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus' feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me." And Jesus answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her."
Yesterday we read that a certain lawyer stood up and tested Jesus, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?" So he answered and said, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,' and 'your neighbor as yourself.'" And He said to him, "You have answered rightly; do this and you will live." But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Then Jesus answered and said: "A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.' So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among thieves?" And he said, "He who showed mercy on him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus' feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me." And Jesus answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her." My study bible has one comment on this passage: "Mary and Martha are the sisters of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead (John 11:1). Martha is not rebuked for serving, but for complaining and for being distracted, worried and troubled. In following Christ, we serve in order to facilitate the spread of the gospel (see Acts 6:1-4)."
We could look at this reading and just blame Martha for all her worldly cares of serving. But if we look closely at the Gospels, we see other instances where Martha is clearly the one who's more in charge of hospitality. Perhaps she's more outgoing, and Mary more "contemplative." In the scene in which Jesus approaches their home after Lazarus has died, it is Martha who goes out to meet Jesus as He approaches the house on the road. Mary is sitting inside together with the other mourners who have come from Jerusalem, the proper posture for mourning. She is fulfilling a religious duty. So the picture of these sisters is consistent; furthermore it is to Martha that Jesus says, "I am the resurrection and the life," and Martha who replies that she believes He is the Christ. Here in today's scene we see the sisters again playing out their roles, only today Mary sits at Jesus' feet presumably with many men also listening to the Teacher. The duties of hospitality fall on Martha. But there is something else going on here. He is the one whom "you do not have always." There is something that trumps even the formal duties of hospitality, and that is love. Mary sits at the feet of Christ because she adores what He offers. This is a position of worship, of love -- the posture of one who puts what Christ offers above everything else. That is the "good part" Mary has chosen, and it is the part that "will not be taken away from her," no matter what else may be happening. The idea that Martha is "distracted" gives us this same idea. Somehow, by being so involved in what she understands as her social and domestic duty, she's distracted from the fact of what Mary sees and experiences. There is One present who won't be with them forever, the One who offers the "words of eternal life." Jesus loves this family of sisters and brother. They are His close friends. But Mary's great love for Christ stands as a kind of a sign for this Gospel of love, the Kingdom of God who is love. This "good part" trumps everything else, no matter the merit or worth. It won't be taken away from Mary, and by implication, from any one of us. A great act of love by Mary will also be the decisive moment Judas will turn from Christ to betray Him. It's a pivotal moment of choice, a new kind of teaching to understand about Jesus and what He preaches. It's a teaching about our faith, that it is not just a set of rules to follow, but a relationship. It is all about love; this is the better part we have with Him and we share with others. Can we go that far? Can we take that step?