Now it came to pass, as they went, that He entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard His word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, "Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me."
And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
Wow, there is a lot more happening here it first seems. The Gospel is actually doing two things here. One, Jesus is making a very revolutionary statement that we seem to have forgotten, and two, He is hammering home an earlier idea. We need a little historical context to understand what is happening here.
The key phrase is "sat at Jesus' feet." This means more than just Mary was avoiding housework by listening to Jesus speak. That little phrase contains so much meaning. In many ancient societies, including Greece and Judea, there was a special significance associated with those who sat at the teacher's feet.
To be invited to sit at the feet of Jesus or any Rabbi was an irrefutable statement. Those who sat at the teacher's feet were literally and figuratively the closest to him. They were the favored students, those who would carry on and advance the teachings to the next generation.
Jesus is making a clear, and very shocking statement by allowing Mary to sit at his feet. Not only is he acknowledging her as one of his closest and best students, but also as an equal to the men of the group. However, he is also endowing Mary with special recognition as one of the select few that will carry His message to others after His death. Today those especially chosen people who bear the messages of Jesus to future generations are our priests and ministers.
But what of Martha? Kind of uppity of her to demand that Jesus admonish her sister. Who does she think she is, bossing The Big J around like that? Yet we see Jesus' peaceful correction and invitation to join Him. The ire and wrath of the Old Testament has passed away.
Furthermore, this is a gentle reminder of an earlier story. Jesus had invited two men to join him as disciples. One said that he would go and say good-bye to his family, the other that he must go bury his father. Jesus tells them both that the time is now. "Let the dead bury the dead," and "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God." We are reminded again in Mary and Martha's story not to let our earthly obligations, the things society tells us to do, get in the way of the things which the Spirit tells us to do.