When Jesus says that Mary had chosen “the better part,” He raises a couple of issues not always explained very convincingly in commentaries (Luke 10).
First, what “part” had Martha chosen? Some say she chose the “temporal” instead of the “eternal” in Jesus’ words. Some say that they chose the “external” as opposed to the “interior” – the doing instead of the being. One of the most excellent translations claims that Martha had chosen “the material plane” – so she had chosen to provide bread to Jesus and His companions, instead of the “spiritual plane” of the supernatural.
It would seem most likely that Martha – who loved Jesus, just as Jesus loved her – was showing her love by serving Jesus and His other friends. Martha was loving, a thing we understand because we know that love is not just felt or talked about but done. This was a good thing in Jesus’ eyes, since he didn’t tell her that her sister had chosen the good and she had not. He said her “part” was good but Mary’s was “better.”
So what was this “better part” that Mary had chosen? It would seem most likely that Mary – who loved Jesus just as Jesus loved her – was showing her love directly to Jesus, Himself. She sat in the company of His other friends, just being with Him and communing with Him and them. No thing was in the way of that communion, not even bread.
We all have to be Martha and Mary in turns. So when we have to be Martha’s, we need to remember why we’re Martha-ing: we’re doing love. We’re showing our love by the things that need to get done – the next good thing. If it’s getting the table ready, good.
But it’ll be better when we sit down together for communion.