Setting the right priority in life.
“But only one thing is necessary.”
In 1984 Charles Hummel wrote a best seller entitled “Tyranny of the Urgent.” Today we would have to write a companion book entitled, “Tyranny of the Insignificant.” We hit the ground running in the morning and go non-stop until our heads hit the pillow at night.
In this passage, we find a snapshot of the daily life of a family. Mary and Martha were close friends with Jesus and maintained a very special relationship with him. In John 11:5 John writes, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus,” so was natural that Jesus would be staying at their home. Furthermore, because demonstrating hospitality was paramount within their culture, is it not astonishing when Martha becomes overwhelmed in preparing a meal for Jesus (and presumably the disciples as well). The failure to do so would have been a deep embarrassment and cultural faux pas. What is surprising is Mary’s unwillingness to help. Instead, she remained seated at Jesus’ feet listening to his conversation. While Martha was caught up in the busyness of caring for the physical needs, Mary focused on the spiritual. At first glance, we naturally would side with Martha. While she is working diligently to care for her guests, Mary is sitting. Activities of the urgent versus quiet repose and idleness. When Martha’s patience runs out she elicits Jesus’ help in getting Mary to fulfill her responsibilities. But surprisingly, Jesus does not rebuke Mary (who was placing the spiritual need above cultural expectation) but instead rebukes Martha (who was driven by cultural expectations rather than spiritual opportunity to listen to Jesus teach). When Christ states, “only one thing is necessary,” he is not referring to the adequacy of a simple meal. The one thing he is referring to is the teaching of Jesus. Christ realigns Martha’s perspective by redirecting her attention from the physical, the temporary, and the insignificant to the spiritual, the eternal, and the important. He is remaindering her that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4)
This is the tragedy of our day: The tyranny of the insignificant clouds our focus on what is truly important. Too often we are Martha. We fill our days with activities and no longer have time for what is eternally significant. We are just plain too busy. The things occupying our minds and demanding our time are really not important and have no eternal benefit or consequence. We spend our days working harder to make more money to buy more things to fill bigger houses but, in the end, become nothing more than fodder for the garbage heap. The things that are truly eternal are pushed aside by the obsession for the present. We are too busy to read our bibles, to go to church, to build relationships with people in order to have an eternal impact. We become like Martha. To pursue a relationship with God requires us to rearrange our time and energies. We do not need more time in our day, we need to rearrange our whole focus, where our pursuit of Christ becomes our chief goal, where time spent with him is the highest priority in our life. At the end of life, there is still only one thing that is important, and that is what Mary chose. What is it that we have chosen?