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)
You know the story. When Jesus came to visit the house of two sisters, Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to his teaching, while Martha kept busy with her ministry to the needs of those who had come to her. Overwhelmed by the good things she was trying to accomplish, Martha went to Jesus to admonish her sister for not helping with the work – that is, she came to complain that Mary was not more like her.
Sometimes, in trying to convince people of the importance of discipleship in the Christian life, we can start to sound a lot like Martha. It is not uncommon these days to hear discipleship coaches draw a distinction between those who are “real disciples” with those who are just “church members.” We are told that we must grow beyond the old membership model of church, where people are mere receivers of ministry, to a discipleship model where people are providers of ministry. This change in mindset, we are told, is what will save the church.
But when asked to provide a picture of what this “real” discipleship looks like, it is often someone like Martha who is held up as the model. Contrary to what Jesus does in Scripture, the approach of most modern discipleship gurus is to provide a list of activities and good works for people to be engaged in to show that they have advanced to the level of true disciple. In some settings, this takes the form of being busy with the work of social justice, where Christians are encouraged to move beyond elemental matters of sin and salvation, to engage in the “real” discipleship work of political advocacy. In other settings, the good works are expressed in a more religious manner, as would-be Marthas seek to prove their faith by their standing and reputation in the local congregation.
The biblical definition of faith, however, centers in the Lord himself. Jesus lifts up Mary as the model of discipleship, not because of her good and religious works, but because of what the Lord himself was accomplishing in her through his Word. Indeed, “Faith comes by hearing, and what is heard comes through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The posture of faith is not simply one of mere busy-ness and activity, but a posture of receiving.
As human beings, our tendency is to always put ourselves at the center of our focus – even when it comes to our life of faith. It is not surprising that we would want to make discipleship about what we do, rather than about what God does in us. But Christ himself has chosen a better portion for us. Through his Word, he has filled us with his Holy Spirit, so that we can confess in the words of Scripture, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20) This is the good portion, which will not be taken from us.
– Rev. Steven E. King