Biblical scholar Ray van der Laan notes that the first-century Jews had a blessing that beautifully expresses the commitment of a disciple to stay in the presence of the one he followed: “May you always be covered by the dust of your rabbi.” That is, “May you follow him so closely that the dust his feet kicks up is what cakes your clothing and lines your face.” Like a baby duckling whose image of its mother has been imprinted on its brain, disciples never wanted to let the rabbi out of their sight. What mattered was not so much the particular activity they were doing. What mattered was being with their rabbi whatever was going on. Every activity was an opportunity to learn from the rabbi how to be like the rabbi. I can be “sitting at Jesus feet” when I’m kneeling in prayer or negotiating a contract or fixing my kids lunch or watching a movie. All it requires is my asking him to be my teacher and companion in this moment.
So let the letters D.T.R. take on one more meaning: “Dust of The Rabbi.” That represents how Jesus invites us to define the relationship: to intend to live so much in his presence that we are dusty disciples.
This was the choice Mary had made. Jesus said “only one thing is needed,” and that is the “one thing” that Mary had chosen, which would not be taken from her. The one thing was not that she would spend the rest of her life sitting in contemplation, letting Martha do all the work. The one thing was being with Jesus no matter what else was going on around her.
The decision that makes us disciples is choosing to be always with Jesus so we can learn continually from Jesus how to be fully like him.
Have you ever chosen the “one thing needed” in your life? What if you were to wake up each morning and begin with this prayer: “Today I would like to be covered in the dust of my rabbi”? What if you were to repeat that prayer all through the day every time it came to mind?
Maybe you think you’re not qualified. So here is another detail we are apt to overlook, even though no one in the first century would. Prior to Jesus, guess how many rabbis in all recorded history had a female disciple? Zero. No respectable rabbi would let a woman close enough to be covered with his dust. Until now. Jesus has made God’s presence scandalously available to anyone who wants it. Male or female, young or old, hermit or homemaker, peasant or king: God is closer than you think.
Ortberg, John. 2009. God Is Closer than You Think. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
We have just completed a 10-Part Study of John Ortberg’s book, God Is Closer Than Your Think. It is available as part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Lesson Subscription Service. It is also available on Amazon