“Lord, just let me be near you.” Such was Mary’s heart cry. “Just to sit at your feet, and soak up every word.” She didn’t think of being seen or care to be noticed. Nor was she seeking a place of prominence. “Mary has chosen the better part,” he told Martha, “Why are you so concerned over secondary things?” He didn’t rebuke her for serving, but only for fretting over it, and for wrong focus.
We can only guess that perhaps Martha, wanting to serve him well, tried to make every detail just right. Perfect for the Lord she loved so dearly. Yet her fretting made her miss the better part, which Mary grasped. For Mary did more than just sit at Christ’s feet. She too served him, even washing his feet (John 12:3). Yet she knew that being with him and learning from him was the most important thing of all. And sitting at his feet, grasped his heart.
But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, But one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her’.” — Luke 10:41-42
But let’s leave Mary and Martha now. And journey uphill with Christ and his disciples, toward Jericho (Mark 10:35-45).
“Imagine the nerve of those two!” the disciples snorted in disgust.”What do they think, that they’re better than the rest of us?” And they looked askance at James and John, wanting the best places. Vying for a place at Jesus’ side in the kingdom. “Let us BE someone,” they said. “We got our bids in first, so give US the positions of power and influence.”
‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ — Mark 10:37
They too served the Lord, and out of love, followed him everywhere. Yet without really catching his heart. So these the Lord did rebuke, for their pride and egotism. “You don’t know what you’re asking,” he told them. Probably wondering, “Will they never learn?” For he had already told them, in the previous chapter (Mark 9:35), when they’d argued over who was greatest, that they had all it wrong.
The Kingdom way to greatness, he said, was to serve others. So he told them again, even more plainly. “If you want to be great, become a servant.”
…whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. — Mark 10:43-45
Their longing for greatness and lack of servanthood made James and John proud and ambitious. Martha’s excess zeal and perfectionism caused her distress and anxiety. Only Mary, sitting at the Lord’s feet, had real peace in her heart. And only to her did Christ say, “She has chosen the best part.”
The best part, because by sitting at his feet that we learn to serve. We forget about greatness and honor. And realizing our weaknesses, we cease striving for perfection, learning to depend totally on him.
The way to greatness in the Kingdom lies in service and self-sacrifice. But that takes first spending time with Christ, becoming like him.
That is the better part, and that which will never be taken from us.