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Choosing What is Better

A recent question from our Question Box:

In the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:42, why did Jesus say that Mary has chosen the good part which will not be taken away from her?

This passage from Luke 10:38-42 tells how Martha and Mary generously open their home to Jesus and potentially a large group of his disciples. Perhaps they’ve heard enough about Jesus to want to know more of him and his teaching.

Those present now sit down and listen to Jesus teach, and these include Mary, despite the fact that it ran counter to Jewish culture for any woman to be listening to a rabbi with the men. In contrast, hospitable Martha is distracted by all the preparations she has to make for their many guests. She becomes flustered and resentful, wanting her sister to stop slacking off and listening and help! Many of us would perfectly understand Martha’s feelings at this point! And yet Jesus gently rebukes her, speaking of the better choice Mary has made in this case.

A key point to note is how special this occasion is. It was like having the Queen, or your favourite sports or music or film star, come to your own house to spend time with YOU, personally. Wow! The long-awaited, promised Messiah has come to Mary and Martha’s house and he is teaching, in Peter’s words, “the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68)!

So the key to understanding this passage is to assess what is the best use of Mary and Martha’s time at this point. What is the priority in this special situation? And Jesus affirms that Mary has chosen better, in spending time listening and learning from him, even when it means flouting social convention and taking time out from her usual duties.

There was nothing inherently wrong in Martha’s desire to provide good hospitality for her visitors. Often it is a very godly action to serve others in this manner. But at this point in time, while the heavenly Bridegroom was actually with her, in her own home, speaking the very words of God, the better choice was to take time out and listen. There are hints that Martha had embarked on elaborate preparations (v40) when perhaps just a simple cheese toasties type meal might have sufficed. Of course, to listen to Jesus she would have had to flout the usual social conventions and also swallow her housewifely pride! But nothing was more important than to spend time in Jesus’ presence, as Mary had chosen to do. Taking time out to listen to Jesus’ words was the best way to honour him in this situation.

Preparing meals and organising households are not ungodly or second-rate actions – many times they are the best and most responsible use of our time and a wonderful way we can serve God by serving others. But as followers of Jesus we need to be mindful of our priorities at any given time, just like Martha and Mary. Taking the time to listen to Jesus through his Bible and through prayer gives us the strength and guidance we need to live as his people each day. Mary had chosen the better thing to do for this reason and her growing faith in Christ would not be taken away from her by the pressures of daily life.

What would Jesus say about our own priorities? Are we prone to distraction from his Word and prayer by busyness, by needlessly elaborate preparations, by our motivation to be thought well of by others? Let’s make sure we choose what is better, so that the one thing that matters – our relationship with God – grows and bears fruit to his glory.