The “City Slickers” Answer

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?


A Tail-Chaser Wants Help

Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home.  She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word.  But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” (Luke 10:38-40 NASB)

Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem.  Along the way, in an unnamed village, He stays with Martha and her sister Mary.  From John we learn that these two live in Bethany, and that they have a brother, Lazarus.  From John we also learn a bit more about the character of these two.  But from Luke we learn some of the  dark side of Martha.

When a person stays at your house, you want everything perfect.  When the guest is a surprise, that sort of desire just isn’t going to be met.  When the guest is a surprise and important person, well then the frustration at not getting the perfect house to host in is exponentially higher.  Martha, though, is not handling it well.  We have two clues (technically three).

First, she’s being “wheeled around” by the preparations.  Most translations use “distracted”, but this is too tame a word.  The Greek word used there is normally used to describe a rider “wheeling around” his horse to go in the opposite direction.  It was used of an army marching in formation being “wheeled around” to march in the opposite direction.  That rounding turn, or turning in circles, makes for a nice square dance in Virginia, but makes for a stressful work environment.  She’s basically spinning around in the house trying to make sure she has everything done.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  It will never be perfect.  In modern vernacular, “Chill out!”

Second, Martha basically disrespects Jesus.  Call it what you will, but the grammatical construction missing the “if not, then” construction is more…harsh.  It’s typically worded in English without the “if not,then” construct, but the tone is translated softer too.  It’s not here.  Martha sees Mary not “wheeling around” with her (and who likes to dance alone?), and is frustrated enough to be disrespectful of her guest.  Think that through.  Mary sits at Jesus’ feet and listens.  Martha is trying to get a meal ready, but when she speaks it’s disrespectful.  So, Martha is really being selfish because she’s concerned about how the house reflects upon her, more than about her guest.  In her concern to be seen as a good hostess, Martha forgot to be gracious to her guest.  Oops.

Martha is a great depiction of us, or at least of me.  I get so caught up in the good things of “church” or the activities of my relationship with Jesus, I forget to relate to Him.  My selfishness sneaks in to the forefront, and how I appear as I serve becomes more important than Who I serve.  I want to be thought of as great because I know I’m not really great.  This happens when you get closer to God, you simply get used to a completely unattainable definition of “great”.  Ironically, I’m still not close enough to God not to care that others see me as “great”.  It’s a mental illness, really; but tightly connected to a spiritual one.  I’m still alive in there somewhere in my interior, and I need to die.  I need to die so that my Master can then make me alive in Him.  Jesus won’t “quicken” my spirit if my willfulness thrives.  He waits for me to give up so that He is invited in.

The scary thing about dying to self, is the cross.  “…deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me…”  Okay, I admit it.  I don’t really want to.  I want Jesus on my own terms where I can still maintain the semblance of respectability to others.  I have a foot in the world and a foot in His Kingdom.  That’s not going to work.  It’s time to pray.

What lesson do you see in Martha this morning?