The Good Part: Having a Mary Mindset in a Martha World
In the tenth chapter of Luke, we find the record of Christ’s visit to Martha’s home in Bethany. The story of what happened that day is well-known: while Martha busied herself with the affairs of the home, her younger sister Mary chose to spend time with Jesus instead. The Savior praised Mary’s choice to sit at His feet, while rebuking Martha for her tireless service at the expense of His company: “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her (Luke 10:41-42).”
While we have no problem acknowledging that Mary’s choice was superior to Martha’s in the eyes of God, we often fail to understand just how wrong Martha was. If there is a good part (as Jesus said), then there must also be a “bad” part. The comparison between the sisters was not that Martha had done a good thing, and Mary had done a better thing. On the contrary, Jesus said that Mary had done a “good” thing; and by comparison, Martha had done a “bad” thing.
This is sometimes such a hard concept for us to understand. Granted, Martha had neglected the company of her Savior at the expense of cooking His supper. Her actions had been misguided, but were they really such a terrible thing? After all, Martha’s only intention was to serve the Savior she loved – or was it?
In the culture of Martha’s day, it was expected that a woman should serve her guests. When a distinguished visitor (such as a rabbi) occasioned upon her home, it was socially acceptable that she should stay in the background and serve his needs. The dinner conversation was not the place for the socially conscious Jewish woman; it was for the men. More than likely, there were many men with Christ that day in Martha’s home. At this point in His ministry, Jesus was rarely separated from His twelve closest disciples. In addition, Mary and Martha had a brother named Lazarus who was probably also in attendance. From a cultural perspective, Martha was not expected to join the men and partake of the Master’s fellowship. She was fulfilling her traditional duty.
Mary, on the other hand, was not socially conscious. She threw off all cultural expectations when she chose to sit at the Master’s feet and hear Him teach. The place where Mary sat was reserved for a rabbi’s disciples, all of which were usually men. It was not a socially acceptable thing for a woman to be the student of a great teacher. But Mary did not care. The Word of God did not forbid her from sitting at Christ’s feet, and neither did He. Mary’s actions, though culturally unacceptable, were pleasing to the Master.
In a way, the foundation of modern culture is no different from the culture of the ancients; society still demands that we conform to its own expectations for our lives. Martha conformed to those expectations, and incorporated them into her service. Mary revolted from those same expectations, and came to know the Master in a greater way.
We live in a Martha world. We are expected to conform our Christianity to a standard of societal norms: as long as we fit inside the status quo, the culture deems us acceptable. But God demands that we conform our Christianity into the image of His Son, and the only way that this can occur is by throwing off the expectations of a sinful world and partaking in His beautiful fellowship. The end result of dynamic Christianity is not that the world would find us acceptable, but that the world – through us – would be turned upside down for the sake of the Master we love.
© 2010 Jeremy Austin Watts