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One Thing Is Needed

The story in Luke 10:38 (NIV) is familiar. Jesus visits the home of Martha and Mary. Martha is working to prepare a meal. Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus “listening to what he said.” Martha is exasperated by Mary’s inattention to the task at hand and blurts out: “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

Martha’s distress gives Jesus the chance to provide another significant principle of scripture: “Martha, Martha…you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed — or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Unlike other principles we’ve identified, we don’t know exactly what the one thing is.

Generally speaking, however, Mary was concerned with the bread of life, while Martha was concerned with food for a meal. Martha was trying to be hospitable, but Mary was more discerning about the spiritual opportunity before her.

When we are pulled back and forth by something that distracts us from Jesus’ spiritual qualities, we’ve gone too far. In today’s world, it happens often. We’re busy, busy, busy — for good reasons we think. Indeed, our busyness produces good works. In Matthew 19:16, the rich young ruler was like that, but as in Martha’s case, one thing was needed.

Jesus visited the home of Martha and Mary again in John 11:17-44, because their brother Lazarus had died. Martha met Jesus as he was coming. Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life…Do you believe this?” Martha replied: “Yes, Lord…I believe that you are the Messiah…” She had found the one thing she needed: a confession of faith.

The one thing needed is not exactly the same for everyone. What is it for you?

2 comments… add one
  • John B. Phillips February 3, 2016, 9:49 AM

    Below is part of supplemental email to the first one (below) — sent by the same reader. It too contains thoughts for everyone to consider.

    I would also say that Martha folks are really needed in the world and their calling is valuable. Too often Martha folks are shamed by that story. God has his place for all of us.

    I would also say that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, which has an Outer Court (body), Holy Place (soul), and Most Holy Place (Spirit). The Shekinah glory of God is in the Spirit (Holy of Holies), but the intercession between the priest to the people and God is a ministry of prayer at the incense altar in the Holy Place. The table of bread of life is also there. The offerings of various kinds, and sacrifices take place in the Outer Court where our flesh man is put to death daily.

  • John B. Phillips February 3, 2016, 9:40 AM

    The following is part of an email from a regular reader of the blog. It contains very good thoughts about this post, and I wanted to make sure everyone read them.

    John 11:5 now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.

    I like to think of Martha as a type of soul. Lazarus as a type of the body, and Mary a type of the spirit. Jesus loved them all. I think it is time for the Martha folks to rejoice in their place and not try to change or get the Mary folks to change. All ministries are loved and there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

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