WHY MARY TURNED OUT TO BE "WISER" THAN MARTHA
BY RICA PERALEJO
I've always heard the story of these two women and it has only taught me the value of finding rest and peace in Jesus. But a closer look at it today gives me much to think about when it comes to wisdom.
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 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.” 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: 38-42)
Again, like me, you also must have heard this story many times before, especially if you tend to be a busybody. But bear with me for today because reading it with a new question gave me new answers using the same old story. I wanted to know what it was that made Mary so wise to do what is right before the Lord’s eyes. After all, Martha was the more compliant and hardworking of the two, yet Jesus says Mary chose the good portion. What made her so wise to choose the right thing? What can we learn from this story when it comes to obtaining wisdom?
Martha was busy and distracted, while Mary was still at Jesus’ feet listening. I think that what we often miss when reading this story or hearing it from others is that Martha was not only busy and distracted, but Mary was actually very still, focused, listening.
Is it not that we absorb more when we are focused? Yet daily we find ways of being distracted, which has been the problem of every age and not only ours. For some reason we always have something to do, something more pressing than the call of God. Our phones do this to us everyday! Always a text, an email, a call, a social media post, that keeps us from focusing on God and God alone.
But if stillness helps us focus on the teacher and the lesson, why can’t we even stop for a few minutes of wholehearted and complete attention on what Jesus wants to tell us today? The story does not say that Mary did not help at all or this was all she did for the entire party. Who knows if she helped beforehand, or she cleaned up much with her sister after, but the point is she knew when to be still soon as Jesus was around.
How can we be wise when we cannot even be still enough to listen?
But Mary was not only sitting still in front of Jesus, she is also seen to be listening. She was seated, but not passive. She was actively learning from the teacher.
In Proverbs 8:17 says, “I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.” What I want for us to ponder today is this: when we read the Bible, do we just perceive the letters on the page, dutifully clock in verses and chapters for the day, or do we truly seek the lessons, principles, direction, guidance, power, it desires to provide for us?
Seeking requires humility. It is an admittance that someone is greater and wiser than you that compels you to look to him for answers or knowledge you simply don’t possess.
Seeking requires humility. It is an admittance that someone is greater and wiser than you which compels you to look to him for answers or knowledge you simply don’t possess. I can almost see Mary looking up intently at Jesus, getting everything that she could from the wisest Rabbi of all. At his feet, looking up — even her posture signified seeking, lowliness, and determination to get what she will not otherwise get another time.
Are we also humble enough to stay hungry and passionate for the wisdom of God? Or are we happy to get quotes online or post cute and tweetable verse each day? Let us remember that His Word is a deep well, rich with wisdom, but only when we seek shall we find!
Martha thought that what she was doing right. Culturally, she was actually in “her place.” Her time would have sided with her, and I find many women today who still would find this story unfair and Martha, faultless.
But Jesus has a very different way of looking at things and took the opportunity to teach Martha that not only was Mary doing the better thing; I believe he was also redefining womanhood in some way by saying that Martha’s way “in the kitchen” is not “the only way” for her gender. Take a look at what commentaries say:
- “Mary’s initiative in taking such a position at Jesus’ feet and learning was actually shocking for most Jewish men, surely for the disciples. Rabbis did not have female disciples. Girls did not receive a formal education.”
- “Mary’s rightful role as a listener in this incident is significant. In Jesus’ day, it was not considered appropriate for a Jewish woman to be instructed by a teacher; her role was largely restricted to domestic life, and thus, it was not expected that she should assume the role of a disciple, listening as a pupil to her teacher.”
- “To sit at a teacher’s feet, however, was to take the posture of a disciple.”
- “Because women were expected to fulfill domestic responsibilities, Martha’s behavior fits the cultural expectations, while Mary’s violates it.”
Jesus was using a preexisting culture to show deeper respect and value for women, and he did it within the context of community and sisterhood.
I cannot over-communicate the importance of having sisters in Christ. Who is our spiritual family? Who are the women that God can use to speak wisdom into our life? Some things we can get from books, but some things we can only get from the people of God. By the way they live, and by what they say. Who is the Mary in your life?
I was reading Brain Rules for Babies when I was stumped at the author’s revelation. Apparently, babies are not interested in learning, even when they seem sponge-like in absorbing every new information that comes their way. Instead, babies are primarily interested in surviving, which means that when they don’t feel safe and they are scared, their minds would be too busy trying to survive that they cannot freely, joyfully, and effectively grasp new learnings and pursue further developments.
I think we don’t have to be babies to know that this is true for us, as well. When we are too busy being scared, insecure, worried, about the troubles of the world, we also find ourselves unable to learn new things. The truth is that it takes a feeling and knowledge of protection and safety to be able to focus, seek, and learn, effectively. And the larger truth is that no one other than Jesus can give this. No one but the Savior of the world, the one who says, “Let me die on the cross in your place, and enable you to rise up and resume your victorious life for me.” That debt is now paid, so you can resume pursuing that call He has placed in your life.
And I think that of all, this was Mary’s secret to wisdom. She knew all the right things, she always chose the best portions, because she felt safe enough to learn in the presence of a Savior.
How about you? Have you been still enough to truly seek His Word today? Have you been in touch with sisters in the faith who can minister to your heart and mind? And have you been secure enough to know that Jesus loves you no matter what?