Only One Thing Is Needed
Luke 10: 38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[f] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Most of us are familiar with this story of Jesus and the two sisters. It is not a parable; it is a real-life situation that Jesus encountered on his journey. Many of us can relate to Martha’s experience at some stage in our faith journey. Though this incident was only mentioned in the gospel of Luke, all the other gospels portrayed these sisters in various situations.
Martha graciously opened her home to Jesus (verse 38 above) likely because she wanted to hear his teachings. Both sisters shared the desire to listen to Jesus but only Mary ended up listening attentively to Jesus. In those times, there was no way to record Jesus’s words for later reference.
Martha was distracted (verse 40 above) and busied herself with the preparations needed. Though she intended to listen to Jesus, she became anxious that the meal might not be ready in time or up to her standard. It was a valid concern that every hospitable host or hostess would understand. The urgent and important began to take precedent over what Jesus desire. Jesus desired that they listen to his life-giving words.
The distraction caused Martha to be resentful towards her sister Mary. Martha was no longer willing to serve happily. Instead, she expected ones around her to also share her anxiety and stress to prepare the meal.
In her frustration, Martha wanted Jesus to reprimand Mary for not giving her a hand. Martha reckoned that if Jesus told Mary off, Mary would listen. Martha is now instructing Jesus what to do and what to say. She wanted Jesus to fit in with her agenda. Are you beginning to see where the distraction is leading? The distraction led to resentment and the resentment led to Martha instructing Jesus what to say. Distraction can lead us to desire that Jesus conform to our plans.
This was not an isolated incident for Martha. Jesus told Martha she is worried and upset about many things, not just preparing a meal on this occasion (verse 41). Sometimes our to do list seems endless, and it is easy to get anxious and stressed out most of the time.
Jesus told Martha that only one thing is needed (not half a dozen things), and Mary had chosen the better thing (verse 42). What better thing did Mary choose? Mary chose not to be distracted and put Jesus first. There is a choice here that both Martha and Mary had to make. There is a conscious or intentional decision to select one or the other. Mary chose to prioritize listening to Jesus, Martha chose to prioritize preparing the meal.
In John 12:1-7 Jesus was again in Bethany and Martha was serving as usual, but Mary took her expensive perfume and poured it on Jesus’s feet. Jesus remarked that she was preparing his body for burial. Mary’s choice to prioritize Jesus first led to her ministering and anointing Jesus for the upcoming sacrifice. Martha’s meal for Jesus provided sustenance for a short time but Mary’s ministering to Jesus has an eternal impact.
It does not mean we should not serve or be hospitable. On the contrary, we are to be diligent and to serve. It does however mean that our serving or our work or ministry does not become a distraction that takes us away from the one that we are serving, our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 8 5 And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.
In our serving, put Jesus first.