Take a moment and read a familiar story from Scripture in a fresh translation, The Voice, Luke 10:38-41:
38 Jesus continued from there toward Jerusalem and came to another village. Martha, a resident of that village, welcomed Jesus into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, went and sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him teach. 40 Meanwhile Martha was anxious about all the hospitality arrangements.
Martha (interrupting Jesus): Lord, why don’t You care that my sister is leaving me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to get over here and help me.
Jesus: 41 Oh Martha, Martha, you are so anxious and concerned about a million details, 42 but really, only one thing matters. Mary has chosen that one thing, and I won’t take it away from her.
Most of my life I have heard this story taught as a lesson in balance, we must balance Martha with Mary because it takes both. However, balance is not the point of the Bible passage.
The story of Mary and Martha is a lesson in priorities, “Mary has chosen that one thing…” And, the priorities taught here are revolutionary:
- Here is the first priority lesson: it is a higher priority to listen to Jesus than to serve Jesus. How many of us have tried to serve without listening? Make it practical: imagine serving someone a meal, but never listening to what they really want. We try to create a life that serves Christ, but never take time to listen to what He wants for us. The first priority is to listen to Jesus rather than serve Jesus.
- Another lesson in priorities: it is more important to be with Jesus than to do things for Jesus. I dare say that many of us have ruined a vacation by such a focus on “what we will do” that we didn’t invest the attention and energy to just “be with each other.”
The deep and lasting spiritual tension in this story is attention verses distraction. The plain truth is that the spiritual life demands attention but our live are filled with distraction. Martha was distracted by all the guests, the meal, the notoriety that Jesus was in her home. Neighbors were peering in through the windows. Her home was on display. Her home management skills were being exhibited.
She is so worried that she blames Jesus for not caring. “Lord, why don’t You care that my sister is leaving me to do all the work by myself?” She commands that Jesus give the orders to Mary: “Tell her to get over here and help me.”
Jesus cuts to the heart of it: “Oh Martha, Martha” (He must call her name twice to get her attention), “you are so anxious and concerned about a million details, 42 but really, only one thing matters. Mary has chosen that one thing, and I won’t take it away from her.”
There it is! “anxious and concerned” OR “only one thing matters.” Which principle is your pattern for setting priorities?
Copyright © Richard Leslie Parrott, Ph.D.