“Mary . . . sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word . . . . Mary has chosen the better part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Luke 10: 39, 42
HOLD ON!!! HOLD ON!!!! Do you know this story? Mary’s sister, Martha, is in the kitchen cookin’ up a storm. She is a terrific hostess. In fact, the house is clean, the meal is almost finished and there are even fresh-cut flowers on the table. But Mary, the other sister, is sitting on her rusty-dusty, doing nothing, nothing except listening to Jesus teach. Though Martha needs an extra set of hands to finish it all, Mary won’t even set the table. And Jesus, observing it all, has the nerve to say that MARY has chosen the better part. How is her doing nothing the better part?
I am so glad you asked. Have you noticed that nowhere, not in a single translation, does Jesus say that Mary, the one who is seated at his feet, has chosen the best part. Depending on the translation you read, Mary has chosen the good or the better part, but not the best. I think the best part would be for each sister to engage both in the practice of contemplation (as Mary has done), and in the work of applying (what Martha has done), what is gained through contemplation. The best part is to invite the balance into our lives of being with Jesus and doing as Jesus did in the world. Both are important, both are necessary, and that is the best part.