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Jesus felt comfortable in the home of Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus. The four weren't just acquaintances; they were close friends. Their home, at Bethany just outside Jerusalem, could have been considered Jesus' home away from home.
On this particular occasion Jesus and His disciples arrived at the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha about mealtime. While the meal was being prepared, Jesus started teaching and Mary sat at His feet to listen (Luke 10:39). Martha, however, was mainly concentrating on preparing the meal and being a good hostess.
Eventually Martha became irritated because Mary was not assisting her and complained to Jesus about it, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me” (Luke 10:40). Martha was so comfortable with Jesus that she inferred Jesus didn't care whether Mary was not helping, demonstrating considerable forthrightness when she addressed Him. She didn't suggest to Jesus that He ask Mary to help her; she told Him directly to "tell her to help me."
Jesus responded decisively but tenderly: "Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things" (Luke 10:41). Martha was fretting over something important to her, which was providing a meal for Jesus and His disciples, but there were other more important priorities. Jesus continued: "But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:41-42). Jesus pointed out the most pressing need in Martha's eyes was to prepare a meal for them, but Mary saw this situation differently. She chose to listen to the wisdom of Jesus, her Savior, while she had the opportunity.
John’s account of the same visit adds to our understanding of what Mary had that Martha needed, and what the "good part" was Mary chose which would remain hers forever: "Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus [and the disciples] came to Bethany, where Lazarus was…whom He had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, …Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil" (John 12:1-3). John emphasizes Mary was so humble, convicted and dedicated to Jesus and His teachings that no expense or personal act was too great or demanding for her to honor her Savior.
Jesus tells us our highest priority in life should be to "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness . . ." (Matthew 6:33). He also gives us guidance in how to do that: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God" (Luke 4:4; Deuteronomy 8:3). For Mary, Martha, Lazarus and the 12 disciples, the Word of God was in their presence in the person of Jesus Christ (John 1:14).
The Apostle John explains what Jesus meant when He spoke of "that good part, which will not be taken away from her"? (Luke 10:42), asserting that, "All that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:16-17). Our daily choices affect our lives, and the end result of this life is determined by the choices we make every day. Jesus said Mary chose "that good part."
The spiritual knowledge we accumulate in this life will be ours forever, and we must not allow physical needs and duties to encroach inappropriately on our spiritual lives. Jesus commended Mary for choosing the good part, the holy words and teachings, which will never be taken from her. We should follow Mary's example and desire God's truth above everything else.
The Good News magazine (Nov-Dec 1999)