"Mary Has Chosen the Best Part"

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him as a guest. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he said. But Martha was distracted with all the preparations she had to make, so she came up to him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work alone? Tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things, but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the best part; it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42, NET Bible)

Was there anything wrong with Martha’s hospitable service? Of course not. But on this occasion there was something more important at hand: Jesus was in the house, teaching. Martha, the text says, was “distracted” (lit., “dragged around” or “pulled away”) by all her preparations. She was over-occupied, too busy, “worried and troubled about many things.” Mary, meanwhile, had “chosen the best part”—sitting at Jesus' feet and listening to his words.

The point is not that Mary chose good and Martha chose evil; it is that what Mary chose was better—more important, more needful. And by saying that “it will not be taken away from her,” Jesus showed that he was not about to discourage Mary from having chosen what was superior. She chose to pursue what was enduring and eternal.

The challenge of discipleship is not just keeping from immorality; it is keeping 1,001 perfectly good things from taking over our lives and crowding out what is most important. Often we are just like Martha: distracted, worried, and bothered about many things. How many can we list? Little league games, shopping, school functions (band, sports, honor society, etc.), work functions, service clubs (Kiwanis, Rotary, etc.), housework, homework, social events, recreation (golf, fishing, skydiving, whatever) … None of them are inherently wicked. None of them are expressly opposed to God’s purposes. None of them are incompatible with being a follower of Jesus. But any one of them can become a hindrance to discipleship if I let it. And the more of them I pile up, the greater that risk becomes.

One of the most obvious applications is the all-too-common tendency to skip assemblies for study or worship because of a ball game, a birthday party, etc. But I can be present for every gathering of God’s people and still be like Martha if I constantly allow good things to interfere with better things. Do I let those good things listed above distract me from training my children (Ephesians 6:1)? talking to the lost—and preparing for such opportunities (1 Peter 3:15)? ministering to those in need (Matthew 25:34ff)? giving generously (2 Corinthians 9:6-7)? If harmless pursuits make me forget that my purpose is to seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness above all else, then they cease to be harmless.

Recall Luke’s description of Martha as “dragged around” by her serving, “over-occupied” with it. We often hide the same condition with words like “involved” and “active.” We can get wrapped up in so many things that we can’t give enough time or energy to do any of them well. Worse, we may become too overloaded to give our best to God. A busy life puts us at risk of becoming “thorny ground hearers” (Luke 8:14). In that picture, Jesus spoke of the fruit of God’s word being choked, not with vile deeds of immorality, but with “worries and riches and pleasures of this life”—the kinds of everyday concerns and pursuits that combine to distract us just like they did Martha. Don’t let good things become the enemy of the best things.