but only one thing is necessary; for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her. Luke 10:42 NASB
The good part – (an excerpt from Jesus Said to Her)
Martha will forever be remembered as the one who missed the point. Mary chose to hear the teaching of Yeshua. Martha chose to concern herself with being a good hostess. John’s gospel says that Yeshua corrected her. We read these words and congratulate ourselves that we are like Mary. We know what is most important. We acknowledge that the words of Yeshua are God’s words about life. Of course learning from Yeshua is more important than setting the table. Who could ever think otherwise?
But there are several tiny secrets hidden in this story that reveal another direction to Yeshua’s thought. It’s all in the verbs.
The story begins in Luke 10:38. The first thing we notice is that it is Martha who initiates the encounter. She asks Yeshua to her home. The verb is hupodechomai. It is often translated “receive” or “invite” or “welcome” but these translations cause us to miss something.
My wife is Sicilian. Her mother was Sicilian. Her father was Sicilian. From the moment you entered the home of my in-laws, you knew you were welcomed. There were hugs and kisses and affection. They were glad to see you and they were not afraid to show it. Forget the limp handshakes and the innocuous “How have you been?” questions. If you aren’t Sicilian (we can’t all be that lucky), then go see “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” You’ll get the idea. It’s family time. You are important.
Martha’s action is the same expression of openhearted acceptance. The verb combines the thought of eager acceptance and underlying support. Martha said, “I can’t wait to have you come to my house. You are so important to me. Please honor me with your presence.” She opened her arms and her heart. How could Yeshua refuse? Martha’s excitement and enthusiasm set the stage.
Then we see another picture. The second verb describes Mary’s action. It is parakathezomai, a word that means to sit beside someone. Luke says that Mary sat down near the feet of Yeshua. Mary is not bustling with excitement over the arrival of a special guest. Mary chooses a different expression of welcome—being in the presence of a teacher. Mary’s posture is the posture of the pupil. And, as we shall soon see, a bit more.
Often when we visited my in-laws, their home was crowded with people. There were extra place settings at the table. After dinner if we sat together and talked, more likely than not there was not enough space on the sofa. So, I sat on the floor, right next to my wife so that I felt her feet and legs. It was comforting. It said, “I love you and don’t want to be away from your presence, even if it means a less comfortable spot.” It was nice to feel so close to her.
Mary chose closeness over bustling activity. That left Martha with the preparation tasks, and that’s the focus of this story.
Our third verb is translated “distracted.” It is periespato. It paints an interesting picture. It is all about breathing. The root word, spao, is the word “to pull, to draw out and to breathe.” But when we add the prefix peri we get the sense of being pulled or drawn out in all different directions at the same time. It is trying to breathe in and out all at once. Do you know what happens when you do that? You choke. Breathing is all about rhythm and flow. Periespato is about choking and gasping. The natural flow is disturbed.
Dr. Ben Lerner is the author of the best-selling book, Body By God. Ben makes an interesting observation about life. If you do not schedule your time, you will find that you have no time to schedule. It’s a matter of priorities. Ben tries to help us see that if we want a deeper spiritual encounter with God, we have to make appointments with Him. If we want a healthier body, we have to schedule exercise. If we want better relationships with the ones we love, we have to plan time with them. The pressures of this world, the pace of this life and the constant confusing bombardment of unimportant but necessary demands will drain away all of your time unless you have unbreakable commitments to a schedule. It is the double yellow line theory of living. Paint double yellow lines around those things that really matter. Then DO NOT CROSS over them. They are sacred times, set aside for special purposes.
We all agree with Yeshua. Mary made the right choice. But I suspect that we all live much more like Martha.
I know I should spend time in the morning praying and listening to God, but . . .
I want to spend time with the ones who are suffering, but . . .
I wish I could take a few minutes to meditate on His word, but . . .
I really want to get together with friends, but . . .
I need to attend the small group study, but . . .
The “but” list is long.
But: the kid’s have practice.
the car needs gas.
the laundry isn’t done.
the conference call was long.
the hairdresser took forever.
the reports had to be done again.
the refrigerator was empty.
the dog got sick.
the bills were due.
the gym was crowded.
You can easily add more to the “but” list. Martha is trying. Lord knows she’s trying. She is trying to keep all the balls in the air at the same time. She is trying to meet all of the expectations at once. She is trying to breathe in and out at the same time. She is trying to be the First Century SuperMom.
Martha knew what was needed to make her guest feel at home. She poured herself into the tasks with that one goal in mind. She was the one who welcomed the Lord. Now she wanted everything to be “just perfect.” But something happened in her zeal to make everything right. There was a shift in attitude. The focus moved from person to performance. Maybe that’s a lot like us. We invite the Messiah to be master, and then we get so busy doing everything to make sure it is all perfect that we forget the guest waiting for us to join him—and let the pot boil over if it needs to.
Topical Index: welcome, busy, perfection, Luke 10:42