They Did Jehovah’s Will
Mary Chooses “the Good Portion”
IN Jesus’ day, Jewish women were hemmed in by rabbinic traditions. Hence, they were discouraged from studying the Law. Indeed, one opinion quoted in the Mishnah stated: “If any man gives his daughter a knowledge of the Law it is as though he taught her lechery.”—Sotah 3:4.
As a result, many women in first-century Judea were not well educated. “There is no evidence that prior to Jesus’ ministry Jewish women were ever allowed to be disciples of a great teacher, much less travel with such a teacher, or to instruct anyone other than children,” notes The Anchor Bible Dictionary. In further denigration of women, some religious leaders even laid down a rule stipulating that a man should not speak to a woman in public!
Jesus disregarded such ungodly attitudes. He taught women as well as men, and both men and women could be found among his followers. (Luke 8:1-3) On one occasion, Jesus was invited to be a guest of Martha and Mary. (Luke 10:38) These two women were the sisters of Lazarus, and all three were disciples and good friends of Jesus. (John 11:5) This family may have been prominent, considering the great number who came to comfort Martha and Mary when Lazarus died. In any event, what occurred in their home when Jesus was a guest there provided a valuable lesson not only for them but also for us.
Learning at the Feet of Jesus
No doubt, Martha and Mary were eager to provide Jesus with a sumptuous feast, and perhaps this was well within their means. (Compare John 12:1-3.) However, when their guest arrived, Mary “sat down at the feet of the Lord and kept listening to his word.” (Luke 10:39) No tradition of men would prevent Jesus from teaching a sincere woman who was so eager to learn! We can imagine Mary sitting in front of Jesus, putting herself in the position of a pupil who is fully absorbed in listening to the teaching of her Master.—Compare Deuteronomy 33:3; Acts 22:3.
Unlike Mary, Martha “was distracted with attending to many duties.” In preparing an elaborate meal, she was quite busy with her demanding chores. Soon, Martha became upset that she was left doing all the work while her sister was sitting at the feet of Jesus! So Martha interrupted Jesus’ words to Mary, perhaps abruptly, stating: “Lord, does it not matter to you that my sister has left me alone to attend to things? Tell her, therefore, to join in helping me.”—Luke 10:40.
In itself, there was nothing wrong with Martha’s request. After all, preparing a meal for a group is hard work, and the burden should not fall on one person. However, Jesus saw in her statement an opportunity to teach a valuable lesson. “Martha, Martha,” he said, “you are anxious and disturbed about many things. A few things, though, are needed, or just one. For her part, Mary chose the good portion, and it will not be taken away from her.”—Luke 10:41, 42.
Jesus was not saying that Martha lacked interest in spiritual things. On the contrary, he knew her to be a woman of deep godly devotion.a That is undoubtedly what prompted her to invite Jesus to her home in the first place. However, in his mild reproof, Jesus was pointing out that Martha, by her anxious attention to the meal, was missing out on a rare opportunity to receive personal instruction from the Son of God.
Granted, the culture of the day might have supported the view that a woman’s worth was best proved by her competence at domestic chores. But Jesus’ words showed that women, like men, could sit down at the feet of the Son of God and receive the sayings of life! (John 4:7-15; Acts 5:14) In view of this, it would have been far better for Martha to provide just a few dishes—or even just one—if it would have afforded her the opportunity to sit at the feet of the Master and learn from him.—Compare Matthew 6:25.
Lesson for Us
Today, both men and women are found among those who respond to Jesus’ invitation to “take life’s water free.” (Revelation 22:17) Moved by love, some—much like Martha—do their utmost to minister to the needs of fellow believers. They are practical-minded and quick to take action, and Jehovah promises to reward their labors of love. (Hebrews 6:10; 13:16) Others perhaps more closely resemble Mary. They are quiet and contemplative. Their eagerness to meditate upon God’s Word helps them to stay solidly rooted in the faith.—Ephesians 3:17-19.
Both types of individuals fill a vital need in the Christian congregation. In the end, however, all should ‘choose the good portion’ by putting primary emphasis on spiritual things. By making sure of the more important things, we will have Jehovah’s favor and blessing.—Philippians 1:9-11.
a That Martha was a spiritual woman of great faith is evident from her conversation with Jesus following the death of her brother, Lazarus. On this occasion, it was Martha who showed a greater eagerness to meet with her Master.—John 11:19-29.