By Marcelo Tolopilo
For believers, the greatest pursuit in life is to love God (Deuteronomy 6:4, 5; Mark 12:29, 30), and this driving purpose for Christians is uniquely realized in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ and the sweet communion He shares with His people. Our greatest joy, happiness, pleasure in this life is found in loving fellowship at the feet of our Lord Jesus. Truly, the simple equation “Fellowship (with Christ) = Fulfillment” is an axiom worth remembering and pursuing.
One of the greatest examples of the high priority of this principle is found in the passage we are considering for the present series of articles, Luke 10:38-42. In our previous commentary, “Distracted by Duty,” we saw how Martha became distracted from fellowship with Christ by the ordinary duties of life and ironically by ministry itself. We also considered the confusion these distorted priorities brought to her life and relationships ~ especially her relationship with Jesus Christ.
In this Lighthouse article we want to briefly reflect on the wonderfully instructive example of Martha’s sister, Mary. Mary is one of my favorite heroines in the Bible because this woman understood the priority and value of fellowship with the Son of God. The simple pattern she models of a believer’s “Purest Pursuit and Pleasure” prompts me to seek “Christ’s Presence.” I pray that it will encourage you to do the same.
One Necessary Thing
The simple and direct narrative picks up with Mary sitting at the Lord’s feet, contentedly listening to her Master’s words (v 39), while Martha – on the other hand – is running to and fro in panicked frenzy trying to finish preparations for her guests who have already arrived (v 40). The text displays two women at opposite ends of the fellowship spectrum. You could really liken them to two planets in orbit. One of them (Mary) follows the path closest to the Son and the warmth of His life-giving words, the other (Martha) is on a far-flung and distant circuit – the frigid flight of benumbed duty.
The stage is set for the Lord to teach His followers the supreme value of what our unassuming heroine, Mary, has chosen. Notice verse 42, Jesus says, “but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” What did the Lord mean by that first phrase,“but only one thing is necessary”? Let’s be clear about what He did not mean. Jesus was not disparaging Martha’s service, but what He was stressing was this, all the sacrificial service Martha could muster was as relish on the plate without the one portion Mary offered. And what is the one necessary portion Jesus desires most from His disciples? It is time spent sitting at His feet, listening to His words, learning from Him, reciprocating His fellowship! That’s what Jesus wants from us. The Lord Jesus desires intimacy with His people. Yes, He desires close fellowship with you!
In Sync with the Heart of Jesus
We really don’t know how smart or how simple Mary was. However, there was one thing Mary understood most clearly. Her comprehension had nothing to do with her IQ, but this one insight made her wiser than her contemporaries. Mary understood the incomparable value of being with, and listening to the Master. Quite frankly, not many of the Lord’s followers understood this simple priority as well as Mary did.
Jesus spent the last week of His life in Bethany. Shortly before that last fateful Passover, His friends held a special gathering (meal) for Him at the home of Simon the leper ~ no doubt a former leper whom Jesus had cleansed. Both Martha and Mary were there with their brother Lazarus, and what is interesting is the familiar occupation in which we find these two beloved sisters engaged. According to John 12:2, “Martha was serving.” What a tireless host this precious disciple must have been.
Predictably, at this same time and event, Mary was at the Lord’s feet. She anointed His head and feet with a costly perfume and wiped His feet with her hair (John 12:3). Mary was worshipping Jesus; she was fellowshipping with Him, and she was the only one of all the Lord’s followers who sat still enough, and listened long enough to understand He was about to die.
You see, according to Matthew 26:12, Mary did this in order to prepare the Lord’s body for burial. Now, did Mary comprehend the broad scope of the Lord’s atoning work on the cross? No, but the Lord’s repeated predictions of His hastening death got through to her. She listened to Christ’s words, and she understood He was about to die. She was the only follower of Jesus we know about from the testimony of the gospels who understood this fact.
Mary certainly wasn’t a mover and a shaker. The movers and the shakers, the eleven, still thought Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem to clean house, and to take His rightful place on the throne of David (Luke 19:11). In conjunction with this misunderstanding, they were selfishly maneuvering for position in the new administration.
According to Luke, Jesus’ men were locked in a tense argument as to which one of them was the greatest (Luke 22:24). You see they didn’t get it! They wanted the Kingdom without the cross; they longed for the glory without the suffering; they desired the victory without the battle; they wanted redemption without atonement. They simply did not get it.
Mary understood Jesus was about to die. She made it a point to spend time with Jesus Christ and listen to His truthful words. The verb “listening” in verse 39 informs us (grammatically) that this was Mary’s ongoing habit. The late Merrill Tenney suggests a good way to translate verse 39 would be, “who always used to listen to His teaching.” In other words, if Jesus was anywhere near the environs of Bethany, you knew where to find Mary: by Jesus’ side in fellowship with her Master.
“But only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” There were many pressing things that needed attention on the day Jesus came to visit Martha and Mary’s house. Mary chose the best thing, to sit at Jesus’ feet and fellowship with the Savior. That is a simple truth, isn’t it? Yet it is the overarching principle we can take away from this clear text.
The Lord Jesus desires one thing from you, and it is the one thing from which all service, godliness, happiness, and pleasure flows. Jesus Christ desires we spend time in His presence in fellowship, listening to His words and pouring out our heart in response. Regardless of what needs to get done in our lives presently, it’s always the right time to listen to Jesus (through the scriptures, “the word of Christ”, Colossians 3:16), and to tell Him about the issues, great and small, that affect our lives (through the venue of prayer, 1 Peter 5:7).