Only One Thing is Needed

Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  Luke 10: 41

Life can be so busy and hectic, can’t it? It is so difficult sometimes to prioritize what should be done and what can be put aside! Sometimes we get so caught up in the busyness that we don’t even realize that we are missing out on the most important things in life. This story is a good reminder that there is “only one thing that is needed” most of all!

There are many stories about women of faith in Scripture who can teach us about loving and serving God. One of the most well-known is the one about two sisters, Mary and Martha, who were loyal and devoted friends of Jesus, as was their brother, Lazarus, whom Jesus later raised from the dead. There are 3 events in which we are told of the relationship Jesus had with these 3 close friends. The first account occurred when Jesus and some of His followers were going from town to town, teaching the Gospel, and Martha graciously opened her home to them. As we read the 5 short verses in Luke in which this story is recorded, we may find ourselves asking the question, “Am I more like Mary, or do I tend to be more like Martha?”

I love visualizing this scene, as the sisters were obviously overjoyed to have Jesus, whom they believed to be their Savior and Lord, in their midst. He and His followers traveled from town to town and would stop and teach wherever they were invited – for a meal and even a night’s rest. Near Jerusalem, they stopped in the village of Bethany, where Martha invited them in. She was probably the oldest of the siblings and felt much responsibility for the preparations. She immediately became distracted by all she needed to do to properly prepare a feast for such a honored guest. If Jesus had all 12 disciples with Him and others who supported His ministry, fixing the meal would have been a major undertaking. Mary, on the other hand could not pull herself away from sitting at Jesus’s feet and listening to His teachings, and could not even think about helping her sister in the preparations.

I can just imagine her sitting before Him, mesmerized by His words and longing to hear more, as Martha becomes more and more agitated at having to do all the work. I can picture Martha, rushing around until she had had all she could take, and she went to them and asked, Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me.” Jesus immediately tried to comfort and soothe her frustrations, and I can see Him gently reaching for her hand to come sit with them, as He responded, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.” And that one thing was spending time with Him.

I think most of us can identify with both sisters. Poor Martha always seems to get the “bad rap”. I can only imagine if I were her, how stressed I would have been trying to prepare a meal for such important guests, but then I can also understand how Mary must have felt. Wouldn’t we all long to sit at our Lord’s feet and hear His loving, comforting words if we had the opportunity? Martha was doing what she thought was expected of her and she thought Mary should adhere to her role.

In fact, it was highly unusual that Jesus would even permit Mary to spend this time with Him at all, for women had their assigned roles and sitting in on men’s discussions or worshiping with them was not one of them. But Jesus was ignoring the traditional way and encouraged Mary to sit, listen, think, and learn. She was the reflective one, interested in learning and seemed to be more loving and calm. Martha, on the other hand, was practical, a doer, and very capable, and although caring, she could be impulsive. In her service to her Lord, she became so occupied with her busyness that she became overly impatient and frustrated with those she loved. If we find ourselves doing the same,  perhaps we too need to examine our hearts, see where our priorities lie, and do as Mary did.

It is significant to note that Jesus gently admonished Martha for being worried and upset, but not for serving others. He understood the task that was before her, but He also knew His words and message to them at that time was more important. Service is a good thing, and we need to be involved in our churches and communities, and take care of our families, but not to the point that we become so busy that we don’t have time to spend with Him. Some of us tend to be more like Mary in our Christian walk, while others resemble Martha. Hopefully, we have qualities of both. God wants us to serve others with love and kindness, but we must not forget what He considers most important and that is doing what Mary did – spending time in His loving presence – reading His Word, praying, listening for His still, quiet voice, and reflecting on His love and goodness to us.

Through this story, we can see that even good things can fill up our lives to the point where we neglect our souls, and if we are not taking the time with Him, we won’t receive the goodness He desires to give us. May we seek His loving presence.


Dear Lord, help us to not get so wrapped up in our lives that we forget what is truly most important. May we serve you and others with love and grace, but may our first priority always be spending time with you. Amen

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