Second post in a series looking at the account of Mary and Martha, from Luke 10. And again, the premise as we look at these verses is that there is this part of us that feels like it was not Mary, but Martha, who was in the right. After all, she is the one helping and serving, and Mary is just sitting around. And what we are trying to do in these devotionals is understand why Jesus very clearly sides with Mary in this situation.
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 only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Martha is trying to do the right thing by helping prepare the meal – I don’t think anyone would disagree with that. But unbeknownst to her, she is actually doing a few things wrong. First, she is not listening to Jesus. Verse 39 reads this, that Martha “had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.” And this verse is directly followed up with this, “But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” Now these seem like two distinct sentences and ideas, but in the Greek, they aren’t this way. There is no real punctuation in ancient Greek, and so it can actually be read as really one more continuous and related thought, like this:
“Mary sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said but Martha was too distracted by all the preparations.”
And when you read it like this, the implication is that Martha was too distracted to do what Mary was doing, which is listening to what Jesus was saying. So yes, Martha is trying to help by getting dinner ready, but at the cost of listening to Jesus. And I think that is what Jesus is saying at the end of the passage, where he says, “Martha, Martha, you are concerned about many things, but truly only one thing is needed: listening to me.” There is nothing more important to Christ than for us to listen to him. And it is Martha’s busyness and distractedness that prevents her from doing so.
There are two applications we can take away from this – first, a reminder that the most important thing for us to do as Christians is to first listen to Christ. I think this particular discipline has been de-emphasized as of late, replaced by the instinct to act first, and listen second. Obedience and action are hugely important parts of the Christian life, but we cannot hope to imitate Christ appropriately and accurately until we are sure what He wants, and the manner in which He wants it done. After all, how can we do what God wants us to do unless we hear exactly what He wants us to do?? The order in which Christ calls us to live our lives is by first listening to Him, and allowing that listening to in turn inform and shape the way in which we think and act. Prayer precedes practice!
Secondly, we should also realize that more often what prevents us from listening to Christ is not our active refusal to do so, i.e. “I won’t listen to you”, but something more passive, along the lines of “I can’t listen to you because I’m too busy doing something else.” More often that not, we are not consciously covering our ears to what He might have to say, but instead, are simply too busy and distracted and concerned with too many things, just like Martha. And this problem is made exponentially more difficult by virtue of our modern lifestyle of constant electronic busyness and distraction.
If you did not know, we are in the season of Lent, a time to spiritually and physically prepare ourselves for Good Friday and Easter, and many people fast from certain things during this time. Consider fasting from the things that cause unnecessary distraction in your life – constant email checking, texting, videos, Facebook, Twitter. The silence will be deafening at first, but perhaps in the midst of that silence, you will be able to better discern a voice that you haven’t heard in a long time: the voice of Christ calling you to sit at His feet!