There is a certain phrase of Jesus that won’t leave me lately. It’s comforted me as I lay in bed at night, when certain unknowns of tomorrow tried to steal my peace. And during the day it has suddenly appeared to help me say no to a few tempting opportunities, ideas, and diversions. I hope it stays with me forever!
When I realized that this was the Spirit of God speaking to me through this verse, I finally decided to look it up. It is from a common bible story – Martha and Mary’s dinner party, but this time I discovered something – that if true – gives the story a little more “color,” if you will. At the least, it makes me more amazed at how wise Jesus is!
Jesus and His disciples were hanging out at a home owned by 3 siblings, Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. There had to be at least 16 people there but I imagine there may have been twice that many. Jesus was sharing the deeper things of the Kingdom of heaven, as He was wont to do. :)
Martha, bless her heart, took the preparations seriously. Not only housing them all (assuming they were crashing there) but she didn’t want anyone to go hungry, either. It was overwhelming! But what was really frustrating was seeing her sister Mary, unashamedly sitting in the crowd of men, right at Jesus’ feet. She seemed oblivious to all the work that had to be done.
When Martha came out (possibly) to put some things on the table, she whispered to Jesus, ”Jesus, doesn’t it bother you that I’m doing all this work by myself, and my sister isn’t helping? Please tell her to give me a hand.”
(It’s interesting that Martha didn’t just talk to Mary directly. It makes me think she might have wanted some recognition from Jesus for what she was doing for Him.)
Anyway, Jesus answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are busy and flustered with so many things. But only a few things are needed, and really only one. Mary here has chosen the better part.”
And then He said this.
“And it will not be taken away from her.”
Wow. How wonderful is this? I almost sense a fierceness to Jesus voice here, as if He is saying, “Sorry Martha, I am going to protect Mary’s choice here. Time is short, and I’m not going to let anything come in the way of her spending quality time with Me while I’m here.”
A Possible Visual
Briefly, the “double-meaning” that Jesus may have utilized is this: If Martha had many dishes to prepare for 15-30 people, by herself, it is no wonder she was flustered. Anyone who has cooked a typical American Thanksgiving meal for a big family, for example, understands this. When Martha brought out some appetizers, or courses, Jesus may have picked up one of the bowls, and while holding it in his hand for Martha to see, or even smelling it, said to her with love, “Martha, Martha, you are busy and flustered with so many things. But only a few dishes are needed, and actually, only one is necessary.”
And then looking down at Mary sitting there all wide-eyed, who was possibly chewing on some simple wheat grass that she found outside, or sucking on a piece of sweet cane (or maybe nothing at all), continued, “Mary has chosen the better portion of this whole meal. And I won’t take it from her.”
The reason a few commentators say the multiple dish metaphor is a possible surface meaning to what Jesus said is because of the particular word Jesus used for Mary’s “part” or “portion.” It implies there was something larger and more complicated to compare it to. Mary’s focus was simple. Martha’s was complex.
Now to me it doesn’t matter if this physical “dish” idea is valid or not… It’s just interesting because it gives a visual for how Jesus might have answered Martha. It wasn’t harsh, and it might have been practical to some degree. Basically – keep things simple, Martha, so you too can be undistracted like Mary. It’s good advice, even when we cook meals to serve guests!
Now For the Main Course
But at this point I am reminded me of another verse, and I paraphrase:
Yes I’m bothered. I’m bothered to think your thoughts are being led astray from a simple and pure devotion to Christ! ~ 2 Cor. 11:3
Back to Mary’s “portion” that she was feasting on, which was Christ’s teaching. It is the enjoyment of this food that Jesus said would not be taken from her. Personally I believe this means that Jesus would protect Mary’s choice to stay in this place of simple, spiritual focus, and I also believe, “make it possible” for her to stay at His feet as long as she wanted to! In other words, Jesus would even miraculously provide Mary’s physical needs so that she could continue to keep her focus on eternal matters.
It is this beautiful and revolutionary promise that I’ve been attracted to lately. Because when it comes down to it, assuming Mary heard this transaction between Martha and Jesus, she still had a choice. Mary could have listened to her sister’s voice, and moved to the kitchen. Or she could claim Jesus’ words as her banner of protection and approval. I believe she chose the latter, and stayed at His feet.
There’s a time for everything. Most of the time, however, we miss out on seeing, hearing, or enjoying the actual presence of Jesus in our lives because we make life unnecessarily complex. We juggle multiple dishes, projects, or obligations …many of which are based on a fear of not having enough money to live on, or a preoccupation with what others think of us.
But when we instead get our life pared down to a simple devotion to Christ in simplicity, despite the complex whirlwind of other voices and temptations swirling outside us, we can count on Jesus being by our side. He’ll protect us, and provide for us. You see, He has no problem miraculously providing for our physical needs, but He cannot make us sit at His feet to trust Him in this matter.
This is up to us to believe.