Now as they went their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
What we just heard is probably one of the shortest stories in the Bible. . . just because it is short, it still has a LOT to say.
Here was Jesus, on His way to Jerusalem to be tried, crucified and resurrected, stopping in for a visit with friends!
Even when the major challenge of his life loomed ahead, Jesus took the time to drop in on friends.
No doubt the news traveled far and wide that Jesus was in the area. Martha was well-known for supplying a delicious impromptu spread on the table. Everybody enjoyed going to Martha’s house, and she enjoyed entertaining, so she jumped at the chance to invite her dear friend. To her delight, Jesus accepted. So she became very busy, tidying the house and preparing a meal worthy of the Lord. How excited she must have been; Jesus was coming!
Sad to say, joy turned into anger. This potentially wonderful occasion quickly grew ugly. While she was busy in the kitchen, Mary, her sister, chose to remain with Jesus in the living room, listening to his words of wisdom. Martha wanted everything in the kitchen to turn out just right. The resulting tension caused Martha to become bitter. She wondered whether her sister appreciated the pressure she was under in the kitchen. In fact, she thought that if her sister had the sense to come and help, most of the burden could be eased.
SO let’s talk about Martha; I think Martha gets a little bit of a bum rap.
You see, I am a Martha!
- and I’m a little sensitive about it.
Now let me explain why.
The way the story goes is that Martha is bad, and Mary is good. We are told
- “Be like Mary, don’t be like Martha.”
Then we get judgmental and religious and condemn all the Marthas, and that doesn’t help the Marthas at all. It doesn’t help Martha because it just degenerates it into a competition between Martha and Mary.
Now let me ask you this.
Do we live in a Mary world or a Martha world?
We live in a Martha world; the Marthas rule the world. America is now the most overworked country in America. Americans work more hours every year than any other nation on earth. We take our laptops on vacation if we even go on vacation. We have our phones and our technology connected at home, on our day off, late into the night. Work, work, work, work, work, work, work, work. And what happens? We’re troubled. We’re anxious. We’re distracted. And it leads to all kinds of stress,, anxiety, depression, and anger, much because we live in a Martha world.
It’s in this ‘Martha world’ that Jesus made his comment about Mary, the other sister.
“Martha, Martha,” he says, “you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).
“One thing is needful.”
What is needful is for human beings to find themselves in a productive atmosphere that brings nurture and encouragement to their lives. We do not live “by bread alone.” Here was Jesus, the bread of life, present and available, but Martha had her mind on other bread.
So Martha missed out hearing the stimulating words of Jesus.
Whenever we sit with the Lord, he brings us insight and understanding, not only about his own suffering and struggle, but about our own as well. When you and I feel nervous and agitated, worked up and wound up because of what’s going on in our lives, we need an understanding partner with whom to sit down, so that we can sort things out, gain an understanding of our situation, and receive encouraging words from the person listening.
God’s plan for every believer is made up of a lifetime of small opportunities. No matter what our career or calling may be, we should each seek ways to serve the Lord daily. We do this by ministering wherever we are to family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.
God has intended this world to be Mary first, then Martha. God built this world to be a Mary world with Martha moments.
So, how can we live like Mary in a Martha world?
Learn to Prioritize
Some of your stress- may be caused by things you can avoid – such as traveling for your job or caring for a sick parent. But other activities may be optional, such as hosting a party, going to one more church meeting, or having friends over for dinner.
The crucial question is this: Do these optional activities stress you out … or energize you? Your answer will reveal whether or not your life is in balance. If your blood pressure rises when you even think about the activity, why not take a pass?
We need to ask God to guide us — so we’ll do what he has for us instead of doing everything that comes our way. Then we won’t have to worry about “missing out.”
Set a Limit—and Stick to It!
To most people, it’s the getting together that counts, not the length of the stay. Even a short lunch can mean as much as an all-day outing. And telling friends or coworkers, “I have from 12:30 to 1:30 free for lunch. Would that work?” sets comfortable parameters for you.
Many of us juggle multiple roles, including keeping up a house/apartment, working either inside or outside the home, and being a personal counselor for people we love. Add a boyfriend or husband, kids, or in-laws and it’s no wonder we feel overwhelmed at times! But setting a time limit—then sticking to it—can work wonders in balancing the demands of our multifaceted life.
I’ve discovered if I wait for others to come to me, I react by jumping to action and marking my calendar before I really have a chance to evaluate the activity or my looming schedule. Initiating activities gives me time for advance planning; it prepares me not only physically, but also emotionally.
- So don’t wait for others to contact you. Contact family and friends first. “I’d love to get together. How about two Saturdays from now, from 1:00-3:00?”
When you do receive a phone call, say, “That sounds like fun. Let me check my schedule and get back to you.” That will give you the time to evaluate your week realistically.
It’s no surprise that “no” seems like a four-letter word we must avoid at all costs.
But “NO” isn’t a dirty word—in fact, sometimes it’s one of the healthiest things we can say. After all, sometimes we have to say “NO”— even to good things — in order to say “YES” to the best things.
If we’re constantly scurrying around like the well-known Martha in Luke 10:38-42, we won’t have time to sit, like Mary, at Jesus’ feet.
So go ahead … say “NO” loudly. It won’t kill you. In fact, it just may revolutionize your life.
If we don’t prioritize our lives, we can become and more distracted. We flit from one thing to the next before we’ve finished the first. We don’t even seem to be able to go through the process without stopping in the middle and doing something else that has caught our attention.
What we need is Marys who can learn from Marthas. We need Marthas who can learn from the Marys of the world. We need this delicate balance between work and prayer, between service and the spiritual, between busyness and attentiveness. We need the Marthas to keep the world running and the Marys to remind us to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen.
In closing, let me read you a poem by a pastor friend of mine:
- My dear, my dear, you are distracted by many things.
One thing is needed.
Every moment, you are sitting at your Teacher’s feet.
Everything that happens is an entrance.
Each moment can be a falling, a falling in love.
The mouth that speaks this into being is right here.
Listen for the voice of the Beloved in every breath.
Everything else can rot or be stolen;
this can’t be taken from you.
Nothing else matters.
1 Pastor Rev Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Unfolding Light