Jesus is ‘the better thing’
Have you ever wondered how two siblings can turn out to be totally different in character? I have two daughters who were brought up by the same parents and grew up in the same context. Both had similar life experiences and were instilled with the same values. We even fed them the same food!
And yet, despite sharing some wonderful characteristics, such as their fierce independence and their strong sense of justice, they are wonderfully and remarkably different. Their differences are what make them unique, and are welcomed and celebrated.
In the same way, there were two sisters we encounter in the Bible and their names were Martha and Mary. They both shared some wonderful characteristics, such as faithfulness and determination, but they were also wonderfully different. Martha was a doer – she loved to be active, involved, and to speak out. Mary, on the other hand, was gentler and each time we read about her she falls at, and remains at, the feet of Jesus.
On one occasion, Jesus and his disciples dropped in on Martha and Mary, and Martha began to busily get things ready, however Mary sat at Jesus's feet:
“Martha was distracted by her many tasks, so she came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her, then, to help me.’ But Jesus answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things, but few things are needed – in fact only one. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’”
Jesus admonished Martha for slipping into a pattern of behaviour which, I suggest, from time to time, all of us have done. J.C. Ryle, the Victorian-era Bishop of Liverpool put it like this:
“The fault of Martha should be a perpetual warning to all Christians. It is not open sin, or flagrant breaches of God’s commandments alone, which lead us to eternal ruin. It is far more frequently an excessive attention to things in themselves lawful."
In other words, Christians often worry about and emphasise sin as being the main thing that draws us away from God, yet perhaps the real threat is the material or “temporal” things of this world with which we become obsessed or distracted.
Martha was not gently and lovingly rebuked for working hard. Her duties were commendable, however, the fact that she was anxious about her work indicates that her priorities had got misaligned. The problem was not Martha’s hospitality, but the fact that she was distracted by it.
When we have so many responsibilities, we too can become obsessed about or distracted by them. They can become our focus and that upon which our eyes become fixed. How I wish us churchgoers, myself included, did not so often take our eyes off Jesus and become fixated on earthly things!
If I am honest, as someone who has a bit of a need to please, and as someone who likes to get things done, I have a sneaking sympathy for Martha. After all, somebody had to prepare the food and do the dishes! Moreover, hospitality is something to be celebrated and she was not doing a bad thing! But we need to take seriously our Lord’s gentle rebuke. Martha had chosen what is good; Mary, what is better.
It is possible that you too, like Martha, are distracted by many things; the things of this world that seem to take up a disproportionate amount of our time and head space; the things that hijack our thoughts and keep us awake in the wee hours of the night.
I am not convinced it is possible to will ourselves out of worrying, but perhaps the first step to achieving peace is to gain a different perspective? Therefore, right now, wherever you are reading this, spend a moment to pick one thing you are worrying about that consumes your thoughts.
Now, take that thing and I want you to close your eyes. Imagine Jesus is standing between you and that thing and focus on him.
Jesus is the “better thing” that Mary chose.
Bible commentator Warren Wiersbe said, “Few things are as damaging to the Christian life as trying to work for Christ without taking time to commune with Christ.” And he is right. Christ, after all, is the Prince of Peace.
Let me close with this poem, that I rather like, penned by an unknown author:
Martha in the kitchen, serving with her hands,
Occupied for Jesus with her pots and pans.
Loving him, yet fevered, burdened to the brim,
Careful, troubled Martha, occupied for him.
Mary on the footstool, eyes upon her Lord,
Occupied with Jesus, drinking in his word.
This one thing was needful, all else strangely dim;
Loving, resting Mary, occupied with him.
So may we, like Mary, choose the better part:
Resting in his presence, hands and feet and heart;
Drinking in his wisdom, strengthened by his grace;
Waiting for the summons, eyes upon his face.
When it comes, we're ready, spirit, will, and nerve;
Mary’s heart to worship, Martha’s hand to serve;
This the rightful order, as our lamps we trim:
Occupied with Jesus, then occupied for him!
• The Reverend Gavin Tyte is the pastor at St Mark’s Anglican Church. Visit stmarks.bm