Luke 10:42
But one thing is needful: and Mary has chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
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(42) But one thing is needful.—Some of the better MSS. present a singular various-reading, There is need of few things, or of one only. It is obvious that this might be taken either literally or spiritually. They might mean (1) that He who spoke, and the others who were coming, needed not the many things about which Martha was troubled, but a few only, or even but a single dish, to supply their wants; or (2) that the true life of men needed but a few things, such as faith, obedience, the fear of God, or even but one only, the devout and intent love which Mary was then showing. The latter interpretation is clearly most in harmony with our Lord’s usual teaching, though the former has something like a parallel in the teaching of Luke 10:7 of this very chapter. It is not improbable that our Lord designedly used words which had an outer and an inner meaning, the latter intended chiefly for those who “had ears to hear.” There is a singular coincidence between the words here spoken to Martha and those addressed to the young ruler (“one thing thou lackest”), whom we have seen reason to identify with her brother. (See Note on Matthew 19:16.) The omission of “few things” in the received text, may have originated in the wish to give an exclusive prominence to the higher meaning.

Mary hath chosen that good part.—The Greek noun is very nearly the same as that which the younger son, in Luke 15:12, uses for “the portion of goods,” the good part or portion here being nothing less than the eternal life which is the gift of God. Here too we may trace something approaching to a half-playful mingling of the higher and lower meanings of the word which was used in the Greek version of the Old Testament at once for Benjamin’s mess, i.e., portion of food (Genesis 43:34), and for God as the “portion” of His people (Psalm 73:26). Even on the assumption that our Lord spoke in Aramaic, and not in Greek, a like play upon the word would have been equally possible.

The two sisters have come to be regarded as the representatives respectively of the active and the contemplative forms of the religious life, and there is, of course, a certain measure of truth in this view. On the other hand, however, it must be remembered that Martha’s activity, with its manifold distractions, was not Christian activity, and that Mary’s contemplation passed, when the time came for it, as in John 12:3, into full and intense activity. The contrast is rather that between singleness of heart and the character which St. James describes as “double-minded” (James 1:8), i.e., divided in its affections.

10:38-42 A good sermon is not the worse for being preached in a house; and the visits of our friends should be so managed, as to make them turn to the good of their souls. Sitting at Christ's feet, signifies readiness to receive his word, and submission to the guidance of it. Martha was providing for the entertainment of Christ, and those that came with him. Here were respect to our Lord Jesus and right care of her household affairs. But there was something to be blamed. She was for much serving; plenty, variety, and exactness. Worldly business is a snare to us, when it hinders us from serving God, and getting good to our souls. What needless time is wasted, and expense often laid out, even in entertaining professors of the gospel! Though Martha was on this occasion faulty, yet she was a true believer, and in her general conduct did not neglect the one thing needful. The favour of God is needful to our happiness; the salvation of Christ is needful to our safety. Where this is attended to, all other things will be rightly pursued. Christ declared, Mary hath chosen the good part. For one thing is needful, this one thing that she has done, to give up herself to the guidance of Christ. The things of this life will be taken away from us, at the furthest, when we shall be taken away from them; but nothing shall separate from the love of Christ, and a part in that love. Men and devils cannot take it away from us, and God and Christ will not. Let us mind the one thing needful more diligently.But one thing is needful - That is, religion, or piety. This is eminently and especially needful. Other things are of little importance. This should be secured first, and then all other things will be added. See 1 Timothy 4:8; Matthew 6:33.

That good part - The portion of the gospel; the love of God, and an interest in his kingdom. She had chosen to be a Christian, and to give up her time and affections to God.

Which shall not be taken away - God will not take away his grace from his people, neither shall any man pluck them out of his hand, John 10:28-29.

From this interesting narrative we learn:

1. That the cares of this life are dangerous, even when they seem to be most lawful and commendable. Nothing of a worldly nature could have been more proper than to provide for the Lord Jesus and supply his wants. Yet even "for this," because it too much engrossed her mind, the Lord Jesus gently reproved Martha. So a care for our families may be the means of our neglecting religion and losing our souls.

2. It is of more importance to attend to the instructions of the Lord Jesus than to be engaged in the affairs of the world. The one will abide forever; the other will be but for a little time.

3. There "are" times when it is proper to suspend worldly employments, and to attend to the affairs of the soul. It "was" proper for Mary to do it. It would have been proper for Martha to have done it. It "is" proper for all on the Sabbath and at other occasional seasons - seasons of prayer and for searching the word of God - to suspend worldly concerns and to attend to religion.

4. If attention to religion be omitted at "the proper time," it will always be omitted. If Mary had neglected to hear Jesus "then," she might never have heard him.

5. Piety is the chief thing needed. Other things will perish. We shall soon die. All that we can gain we must leave. But the "soul" will live. There is a judgment-seat; there is a heaven; there is a hell; and "all" that is needful to prepare us to die, and to make us happy forever, is to be a friend of Jesus, and to listen to his teaching.

6. Piety is the chief ornament in a female. It sweetens every other virtue; adorns every other grace; gives new loveliness to the tenderness, mildness, and grace of the female character. Nothing is more lovely than a female sitting at the feet of the meek and lowly Jesus, like Mary; nothing more unlovely than entire absorption in the affairs of the world, like Martha. The most lovely female is she who has most of the spirit of Jesus; the least amiable, she who neglects her soul - who is proud, frivolous, thoughtless, envious, and unlike the meek and lowly Redeemer. At his feet are peace, purity, joy. Everywhere else an alluring and wicked world steals the affections and renders us vain, frivolous, wicked, proud, and unwilling to die.

42. one thing, &c.—The idea of "Short work and little of it suffices for Me" is not so much the lower sense of these weighty words, as supposed in them, as the basis of something far loftier than any precept on economy. Underneath that idea is couched another, as to the littleness both of elaborate preparation for the present life and of that life itself, compared with another.

chosen the good part—not in the general sense of Moses' choice (Heb 11:25), and Joshua's (Jos 24:15), and David's (Ps 119:30); that is, of good in opposition to bad; but, of two good ways of serving and pleasing the Lord, choosing the better. Wherein, then, was Mary's better than Martha's? Hear what follows.

not be taken away—Martha's choice would be taken from her, for her services would die with her; Mary's never, being spiritual and eternal. Both were true-hearted disciples, but the one was absorbed in the higher, the other in the lower of two ways of honoring their common Lord. Yet neither despised, or would willingly neglect, the other's occupation. The one represents the contemplative, the other the active style of the Christian character. A Church full of Marys would perhaps be as great an evil as a Church full of Marthas. Both are needed, each to be the complement of the other.

See Poole on "Luke 10:41" But one thing is needful,.... Meaning not that one dish of meat was sufficient, and there was no need of any more, in opposition to Martha's carefulness in preparing many; for this is too low a sense of the words; which yet some ancient writers have given into: but rather the hearing of the word, the Gospel of Christ, which Mary was engaged in; and which, ordinarily speaking, is necessary to the knowledge of Christ, and salvation by him, and to faith in him, Romans 10:14 not that this is the only needful thing; nor does Christ say there is but one thing needful, but that there is one thing needful; for there are other things that are also needful, and useful, as meditation and prayer, and attendance on, and submission to the ordinances of baptism, and the Lord's supper, and all the duties of religion: but Christ's meaning seems plainly to be, that Mary hearing the word from his mouth, and at his feet, was one necessary thing, in opposition to Martha's many unnecessary ones, about which she was cumbered:

and Mary hath chosen that good part; or "the good part", or "portion"; Christ, the sum and substance of the word she heard, and eternal life and salvation by him. God himself is said to be the portion of his people, and a good one he is, and a portion that lasts for ever; and so is Christ; see Psalm 73:26 where the Septuagint use the same word as here. The heavenly inheritance also, eternal glory and happiness, is the saints' portion; it is called in Colossians 1:12 the part, or portion of the inheritance with the saints in light. The word answers to the Hebrew word, as in that saying of the Misnic doctors (f),

"all Israel have, "a part", or "portion" in the world to come.''

All the Oriental versions add, "for herself", and this choice she made, not from the natural power of her own freewill, but as directed, influenced, and assisted by the Spirit and grace of God, and in consequence of God's eternal choice of her unto salvation by Jesus Christ: and the part she chose is, that

which shall not be taken away from her; by men or devils: faith which comes by hearing of the word, and so every other grace of the Spirit is what can never be lost; nor an interest in God, as a covenant God, or in Christ as a Saviour, nor a right and title to, nor meetness for eternal life, nor that itself, can be taken away, or the believer ever be deprived thereof.

(f) Misn. Sanhedrin, c. 11. sect. 1.

But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
Luke 10:42. ὀλίγων δέ ἐστιν χρεία ἢ ἑνός. With this reading the sense is: there is need of few things (material); then, with a pause—or rather of one thing (spiritual). Thus Jesus passes, as was His wont, easily and swiftly from the natural to the spiritual. The notion that it was beneath the dignity of Jesus to refer to dishes, even as a stepping stone to higher things, is the child of conventional reverence.—τὴν ἀγαθὴν μερίδα, the good portion, conceived of as a share in a banquet (Genesis 43:34). Mary, having chosen this good portion, may not be blamed (γὰρ), and cannot be deprived of it, shall not with my sanction, in deference to the demands of a lower vocation.Luke 10:42. Ἑνὸς δέ ἐστι χρεία, whereas there is need of but one thing) The antithesis is περὶ πολλά, about many things, Luke 10:41. Comp. Sir. (Ecclus.) Luke 11:11; Luke 11:10 in the Greek. This one thing seems to be said of the same kind (class, genus) as the many things. One thing (ἓν is the original, not τὸ ἓν, the one thing) in relation to the necessities of food (living), without the distracting varieties of a great feast.[103] The ΔῈ, but, twice employed, accords with this view. One needful thing, in the class (genus) of spiritual things, is equally commended [at the same time that the one needful thing in the way of food is praised], when it is termed ἡ ἀγαθὴ μερὶς, that good part: and therefore, if you refer the ἓν, one thing, to frugality in the viands of the entertainment, not only is the doctrinal lesson in the whole passage[104] not attenuated, but it is rendered the more full and fruitful by this interpretation. However, I do not dogmatically assert this view. I have said, ‘seems.’ As concerns the thing itself, the force of the sentiment is not diminished thereby.—ἀγαθὴν, good) better than Martha thought: tranquillizing, enriching.—μερίδα, portion) A metaphor from a feast.—ἐξελέξατο, hath chosen out for herself) What each soul chooses out, that it enjoys. The elect soul is accounted to have chosen the good part. So great is the goodness of the Lord towards those who are willing to receive it.—οὐκ ἀφαιρεθήσεται, shall not be taken away) Comp. Mark 4:25. The exemption from worldly service was thus confirmed to Mary.

[103] Called by the Latins “dubia cœna;” ubi dubites quid capias, where you are puzzled by the variety what to take.—ED. and TRANSL.

[104] In a similar way, ch. Luke 17:21, there is no disparagement to the truth that the kingdom of God possesses the whole inner man of believers, even though the discourse, addressed directly to the Pharisees (and not to believers), is thus to be understood: The kingdom of God and the Messiah Himself is even already near at hand and in the midst of you. So also in Php 1:21, Christ does not cease to be the life of Paul, although Paul says in that particular passage, “My life, wherein I must remain in the world for some time longer, altogether aims towards Christ as its object and mark.” There is no reason that we should try to gain for the meaning and intention of the sacred words of Scripture, which are never void of the power of the Spirit, a richness of meaning even fuller than was designed. The denial of mere human caprice and fancy is certainly better than giving scope to such exercises of religious devotion.—V. g.Verse 42. - But one thing is needful. Jesus had been saying to this kindly but over-fussy friend, "Are you not too anxious about these household cares of yours?" and then he adds, "See, only one thing is really needful." Now, what is the exact meaning of these last words? Some expositors have taken the expression to mean "a single dish is sufficient" for my entertainment; so much careful, anxious thought is thrown away. A curious variation in the reading occurs here in some, though not in all the oldest, authorities. It seems as though some of the early copyists of the text of the Gospel were wishful to make the words, which they possibly understood as a lesson of the Master's on simplicity of food, clearer and more emphatic. This other reading is, "There is need of few things, or of one only." In other words, "Few things are enough for me and my friends to sit down to, or even one dish only." The teaching contained in ver. 7 gives a little colour to this quaint interpretation of the Master's words here, which sees in them a general warning against taking thought for the pleasures of the table. But, on the whole, the old reading contained in the received text is preferable, and the old interpretation, too, viz. that the true life of man needs but one thing, or, if the other reading be adopted, needs but few things. If we must specify the one, we would call it" love," or "charity." So John, we know, in his old days, summed up all man's duties in this "love." If, on the other hand, we are asked to name the few, then we would add to love, faith and hope. The parable of the "good Samaritan," that practical lesson of the love or charity the Master was alluding to, had just been spoken; it was Still, we may reverently assume, fresh in the Divine Teacher's mind. And Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her. And Mary, his dear Bethany friend, had made her happy choice of the one thing, that love or charity which never fails; or, perchance, had made her choice of the few things needful (if we prefer the longer reading of those old manuscripts we have spoken of) - the few things would then mean that faith, hope, and charity which abide both now and in the ages of ages yet to come!

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