Choosing the Good Portion

Most Christians have a favorite passage of the Bible that they turn to often for encouragement, strength, and hope. One of my favorites is Luke 10:38-42. I wrote an exegetical paper on this passage when I studied at Welch College. I referenced that text in a recent sermon and freshly immersed myself in that passage this week. In this post, I will encourage readers to actively choose the good portion and slow down for loving union with Jesus.

We’re all searching for satisfaction. We long for lasting fulfillment and purpose. We long for God’s shalom. Where do we turn to for comfort and rest? Do we turn to pleasure, entertainment, success, or even our work? Do we search for fulfillment in likes on Facebook and Instagram? God has given us so many good gifts yet we so often worship the gifts rather than the Giver. We endlessly search for satisfaction.

Augustine discovered that ultimate satisfaction comes when one rests in God. He said, “Thou awakest us to delight in Thy praise; for Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless until it repose in Thee.”[1] Much can and has been said about that quote. Two distinct themes of worship and delight resonate with me. Augustine’s understanding of worship relates to the chief end of man which is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Mary understood that true satisfaction proceeds from worship.

Luke thought the encounter of Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet was important enough to share in his Gospel. The Gospel writer had been teaching on the characteristics of a disciple. Luke 9: 23-27 teaches us that a disciple denies himself and takes up an attitude of self-denial. Furthermore, Luke tells us that a disciple is one who counts the cost. (Luke 9:57-62) The Gospel writer proceeded to show us that a disciple is one who serves alongside Jesus. (Luke 10:1-12) In Luke 10:25-37 we learn that a disciple must go the extra mile and love the unlovable. Lest we misinterpret the Good Samaritan passage to suggest that works result in righteousness, Luke included the narrative about Jesus’ visit to Martha’s home in 10:38-42. Those verses are the focus of this post.

Consider the text for yourself.

38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42, ESV)

Martha busied herself in the kitchen. She wanted to show Jesus just how hospitable she was. Meanwhile, her sister Mary sat at the feet of Jesus. There is a time to serve and a time to worship. Both service and worship are important responsibilities of a disciple. Even so, Jesus affirmed Mary’s choice to sit at his feet. This action would have been unthinkable for a woman in the first century. Women were not supposed to learn at the feet of a rabbi. That was a position delegated only to men. Like it, love it, hate it, that was a cultural expectation at the time this was written. Jesus’ affirmation of Mary compels us to consider the matter further.

Jesus said that Mary had chosen the good portion. I did a quick word study on portion. In the original language, the term could refer to a portion of the whole that had been divided or figuratively to refer to food. [2] What was Jesus saying when he said Mary chose the good portion? Jesus observed Mary’s posture of worship. He didn’t condemn Martha for serving, for, after all, she was preparing the meal for Jesus and his disciples and without Martha, they wouldn’t’ have eaten. Our Lord’s emphasis addresses the posture.

Mary postured herself in worship at Jesus’ feet. She chose the good portion of an intimate relationship with Jesus. Her actions provide a model for us. We may sometimes find satisfaction in our work like Martha did, but we must remind ourselves that its all about a heart posture rather than an activity. Another Gospel writer also recorded Mary’s worship posture. John 12:3 captures the beautiful demonstration of worship wherein Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with a costly fragrance.

The image of Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet was captured well in the Spanish worship song, “No Hay Lugar Mas Alto”. That song essentially says there is no higher or greater place to be than at Jesus’ feet. I had the privilege of seeing Cuban Christians worship to that song when I was graciously invited to participate in two short-term mission trips to the island.

Brothers and sisters your search for satisfaction cannot be met outside of a loving relationship with and worship of Jesus. Mary chose the good portion and provided us with an example to follow. The Triune God is your portion and your salvation. In Jesus, you have all that your soul longs for and so much more.

More often than we would like to admit we don’t choose the good portion of loving intimacy. You may be wondering what you can do to choose the good portion today. Here are some suggestions, even though the list isn’t exhaustive.

  1. Preach the Gospel to yourself. We all need regular reminders of God’s matchless love and grace.
  2. Ask the Holy Spirit to refresh and renew your mind, body, and spirit. Pray for a personal revival.
  3. Take time out of your normal fast pace of life to delight in God. You delight in God when you immerse yourself in his word, prayer, and personal worship.
  4. Read the prayers of the English Puritans as articulated in The Valley of Vision by Arthur Bennett. Second, to the Bible, this Puritan prayer book is a must-read for all Christians.

I invite you to join Mary in choosing the good portion. Jesus offers you living water through his Word and the Holy Spirit. Nothing or no one can satisfy the longings of your soul like Jesus can.

[1] Saint Augustine Bishop of Hippo, The Confessions of St. Augustine, trans. E. B. Pusey (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).

[2] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 632.

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