But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42 NASB)
The “secret of life” is described in the movie, City Slickers as “just one thing” (must be said holding up the index finger). When asked what the one thing is, we are told, “That’s what you need to figure out.” The point in the movie is that a life with one thing at the center is more successful. Ironically, Jesus says the same thing, but He challenges His listeners to make Him the center. And that’s where it all falls apart for us.
I had a couple of teachers make the same joke about different people, so I’m pretty sure it wasn’t original with either one. They said this guy was a great theologian except he seemed to want to be “theo”. This sums up a lot of the American church; and not just modern, but even in our early days. Before the American Revolution, Jonathan Edwards who was famous as a preacher who sparked a few revivals, was fired from his church when he wanted more authenticity from his people. Americans have been self-centered from the outset.
Again, it’s nothing new. In Paul’s letters to nearly every church he addresses selfishness. Even in his “nicest” letter to the Philippians, he has a famous passage all about selfishness (chapter 2). He stresses the death of the “old man”, love for the fellow believers, and warring against the “flesh”. The reality is that even Jesus, in His Eastern culture faced tremendous hurdles in preaching against selfishness. With people from Pharisees to fishermen, plowmen to priests, Jesus addressed selfishness at the heart of the human problem.
On the other hand, people cannot be our center either. Billy Crystal’s character focuses on his family, but Jesus says plainly that unless we hate our family we cannot be His disciple. No one putting his hand to the plow but wanting to look back at his family obligations is fit for the Kingdom. It’s harsh, but Jesus knows that only He can function as the fulfilling center of a life. Here, Mary had chosen the better part. Martha should have just set out snacks, veggies and dip, and sat down to listen. Jesus was feeding them with more satisfying food and she was skipping the meal.
So, if you’ve been following this blog, and see a lot of my “conclusions” are about being selfish, and how that’s a bad thing, get ready, because here I go again. I see in myself that selfishness is my number one problem. I have emotional pain driving anger and other problems, but my core issue is selfishness. It’s what keeps me from true repentance. I don’t know what keeps you from true repentance, or even how to define that for anyone else, or whether you’ve actually truly repented or not. I know that I continue to struggle with it. I know that I need to practice spiritual disciplines that challenge my self-centered thinking, help change my behavior patterns to focus on the others my Master has placed in my life, and hopefully, eventually, make me more available to my Master for His purposes and His presence. Mostly for His presence.
What do you learn from Jesus’ correction of Martha?