Gospel: Luke 10:38-42

The Good Portion

What is the hardest job being a good host: serving your guests or socializing with them?

Popular Translation

38 As they made their way to Jerusalem, Jesus entered a village. There, a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Martha had a sister named Mary who sat by Jesus and listened to him teach. 40 But, as she tried to serve everyone, Martha dragged herself from here to there. So, she came up to Jesus and asked, "Lord, doesn't it bother you that my sister left me alone to serve all these people? Tell her to help me!"

41 "Martha, Martha," Jesus sighed. "You're worried about too many things. 42 You only need one thing--faith! Mary has chosen that good thing. And it will not be taken from her."

On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus led his entourage into the village and the home of Martha. As the good host, she served them. But, her sister, Mary, wanted to be a disciple. Martha tried to shame Mary into helping through Jesus. But Jesus would have none of her shame. Instead, he praised Mary's choice.

Literal Translation

38 During their travels, HE went into a certain village. A woman named Martha welcomed HIM (into her home as a guest). 39 That one (had) a sister called Mary [who] sitting at HIS feet, heard his word. 40 But, Martha was dragged around many tasks (of service). Standing toward (him), she said to him, "Lord, does it not matter to you that my sister left me alone to serve (everyone)? Tell her so she might help me." 41 Having answered, the LORD said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and agitated about many (things). 42 One (thing) is needed. For Mary has chosen the good portion which will not be lifted away from her."

10:38 Martha was a woman of means. In a gender segregated society, such women were the exception, but they were not unusual.

10:39 "a sister called Mary [who] sitting at HIS feet, heard his word." The actions of Mary were highly unusual. Sitting at the feet of Jesus, Mary assumed the position of disciple learning from a rabbi. In other words, as a fellow student, she made herself the equal of her male counterparts. Jewish women were not expected to receive an education. Her presence and position would have caused scandal as outrageous behavior. (However, upper-class Gentile women many times had some education. Luke's Gentile audience may not have been as shocked as Jewish Christians who heard this narrative.)

10:40 Martha approached Jesus so he could shame Mary into helping her. This way, Mary would return to her social role of servant, with the approval of the people around her.

10:42 "One (thing) is needed. For Mary has chosen the good portion which will not be lifted away from her." Jesus responded with a meal analogy. While Martha was frustrated with the burdens of service, Mary focused only on one thing, the teaching of the Lord. He likened her choice to choosing a portion at a meal. What she chose would not be taken from her. Implicitly, Jesus recognized her rightful place at the meal of the community.

What is more important when we welcome a guest: getting about the business of serving them, or seating down so we can listen to them?

In the gospel, Martha and Mary represented the two problems in welcoming people. Martha got busy serving her guest, while Mary simply wanted to listen. Harried with the work and frustrated with her sister's lack of help, Martha complained to Jesus. In response, Jesus told Martha to stop worrying and start listening. [10:40-42]

Jesus did not reject the need for serving others. Helping guests is the sign of a gracious host. What Jesus did insist upon was balance. There is a time to prepare for guests and there is a time to socialize with them. There is a time to serve and a time to listen.

When we welcome the Lord, we should prepare for the welcome with prayer, but be ready to hear the Lord at every moment. On the one hand, we cannot reduce our spiritual life to prayer. If we do, prayer becomes our speech to God: a list of our needs, wants, and desires. And we do not hear his voice, his call, his word. On the other hand, we cannot simply go about our business without prayer, hoping the Lord will surprise us. We might not hear his voice. So, we need to prepare our hearts with prayer, but have open hearts to hear the Lord.

Like a gracious host, let us prepare to welcome the Lord. Pray for the gift of an open heart this week.