Here in these lyrics of popular worship leader Kari Jobe is the picture of what many Christians have come to learn is a picture of Mary in the story of the sisters Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42:

The more I seek you, the more I find you.

The more I find you, the more I love you.

I want to sit at your feet, drink from the cup in your hand.

Lay back against you and breath, hear your heart beat.

You may not be convinced that this would be Kari Jobe’s interpretation of the passage in Luke about Mary and Martha, much less a generally popular view, (though it’s certainly significant that this song is quite popular) but it certainly follows that Ms. Jobe considers her lyrics to describe a commendable attitude before Jesus.

But here is further evidence of the widespread acceptance of the idea that Jesus commends those who seek him “intimately”, and that the story of Mary and Martha teaches this approach in our relationship with God, can be found in the popular book sold in Christian bookstores, Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World: Finding Intimacy with God in the Busyness of Life. Here is the introduction to this book given on Amazon.com:

An invitation for every woman who’s ever felt she isn’t godly enough, isn’t loving enough, isn’t doing enough.

The life of a woman today isn’t really all that different from that of Mary and Martha in the New Testament. Like Mary, you long to sit at the Lord’s feet…but the daily demands of a busy world just won’t leave you alone. Like Martha, you love Jesus and really want to serve him…yet you struggle with weariness, resentment, and feelings of inadequacy. Then comes Jesus, into the midst of your busy life, to extend the same invitation he issued long ago to the two sisters from Bethany. Tenderly, he invites you to choose “the better part”–a joyful life of intimacy with him that flows naturally into loving service.

With her fresh approach to the familiar Bible story, Joanna Weaver shows how all of us–Marys and Marthas alike–can draw closer to our Lord: deepening our devotion, strengthening our service, and doing both with less stress and greater joy.

Is this what Jesus was commending Mary for? “[choosing] a joyful life of intimacy with him that flows naturally into loving service.”? What is the evidence for this? I have found that this is the accepted interpretation of this passage in many evangelical circles (as proven by the popularity of this book, now available in paperback, Kindle, audio and gift edition). But is this interpretation been the accepted interpretation through church history? And is this view validated by the text? Let’s look at the passage from Luke 10:

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.

Is Mary soaking in the presence of Jesus? Is she “lying on his breast and drinking from his cup?” (This is a rather disturbingly inappropriate image by the way.) What the text says is that she is sitting at his feet and listening to his teaching. Mary’s attitude and position is that of any pupil before a Rabbi from whom he (or she) is learning. This description by Luke does not seem to express any sort of special intimacy but rather shows a picture of Mary’s interest in what Jesus is teaching.

I’ll close this post with the words of Dr. Paul Kretzmann and his commentary on this passage. His words more closely approximate the historical understanding of this passage:

Just as Jesus always taught the matters concerning the kingdom of God with great willingness, so Mary absorbed His teaching with extreme avidity. So absorbed was she in the words of eternal truth that came forth from the mouth of Jesus that she forgot all else. Martha, on the other hand, after the manner of housewives the world over, was over-busy to serve the distinguished and beloved Guest properly; she tried to discover new ways of serving the Lord in her work as hostess. Note: We have here two forms of service, each done to the Lord, each with the best of intentions, the one with the work of the hands, the other in listening to the words of eternal wisdom. They need not clash, but have their worth, if the relation of values is always regarded, and first things are placed first.

This lesson Martha had not yet learned. It displeased her that she was obliged to do the work of preparing the meals and serving the Lord all alone. And so she finally stepped up and said: Lord, does it not bother Thee that my sister lets me serve alone? Tell her that she should take a hand in this service also. There is a certain amount of resentment even against Jesus noticeable in these words, as though she would indicate that the Lord might stop teaching for a while and not interfere with the household duties. Jesus, however, tells the harassed hostess patiently and kindly, but also firmly, that she was bothering and concerning herself about many things. “Here you see that Christ, although He is hungry, yet He is so anxious about the salvation of souls that He forgets the food and only preaches to Mary; and He is so careful and concerned about the Word that He even rebukes Martha, who on account of her work, about which she is worried, even neglected the Gospel…. And especially should we give up all worry when the Word comes; then all work and occupation should be neglected.”

There is only one thing that is needful in this world, which must be placed ahead of all other things, that is the Word of the Gospel, and faith in such Word and salvation. This good portion Mary had chosen. She had found in the Word the peace which passes all understanding; she was being trained unto eternal life. And that good part shall be taken neither from Mary nor from any other believer. The things of this world pass away, but the Word of the Lord abideth forever.

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