Choosing the One Thing

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 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!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42; NIV)

My life has been filled with things. I spent years working nearly 70 hours a week at two jobs. I balanced family time with other pursuits. Time with friends, time on hobbies, time trying to unwind from the stress and anxiety of balancing everything. So many things to do to meet my obligations, and then other things to distract me from the burden of those things. Along the way, I had missed the only thing that really mattered.

My pastor spoke on this passage last Sunday. It was already clear where I'd gone wrong, across those years, but I didn't have the text. On Sunday, I finally had the text, and something more. A clear vision for where I needed to be.

The scene is familiar. Jesus is at the home of two sisters, and one, Martha, is burdened with the obligations of hospitality. In ancient near eastern cultures, hospitality was a fundamental value, and was a badge of honor. Martha's intentions were good. When her sister Mary sat and listened to Jesus' teaching rather than assist with the preparations, she was understandably irritated. She assumed that Jesus would share her priorities, especially since he was the guest of honor.

Jesus focuses all his attention on Martha. He repeats her name twice; the first time to stop her, and the second to gain her complete attention. I can picture him resting his hands on her shoulders, looking directly into her eyes. What he was about to say was the most important thing in the world. It was something she had missed. It was something we all have missed. We have allowed the obligations of life to interfere with the one thing that is really important. It is the only thing we truly need.

We need to sit at the feet of Jesus, and listen to his voice. We need to release our worry and shed the things that distract us from being there. It is that simple.

Simple is not easy. Life makes its demands. We all have legitimate obligations, and these bring worry and frustration. There is no end to them, and if we allow them, they will grow and crowd out the thing that is better, the one thing that is necessary. The thing that puts everything else in perspective. The thing that fills the emptiness inside of us, and empowers us to be the people we were meant to be. It is something we have to choose. Mary chose it, and Jesus said it would not be taken away from her. No one can take it away; the only way we can lose it is if we choose to give it up.

Will we choose to sit at his feet, and listen to his voice? It is a posture and a prioritization. What I have learned is that I cannot do many things successfully, but I don't need to do many. I can choose to burden myself, or I can choose Jesus. In choosing him, I have room to take on other pursuits, but only a few. I must choose to take on the obligations which permit me to remain at his feet, and which allow me to hear him clearly. There is room for those. Family, work. Friends. But he is before everything. And without him, my best efforts will likely fail anyway.

Jesus is saying your name. Twice. He offers you freedom from your worry, joy in the middle of life's demands, peace in knowing that you are finally in the place you were meant to be.

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