This is another one of my favorite stories, I suppose because it shows us something that’s easy to forget.
Martha opens up her home to Jesus, but then promptly neglects him. Why? Because she’s too busy trying to “serve” him. She then gets agitated because Mary’s doing nothing to help her get things ready, but instead simply sits at Jesus’ feet listening to him.
So after who knows how many hours of this, Martha marches up to Jesus, interrupts his teaching, and loudly complains,
Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me! (40)
Imagine the uncomfortable silence after that outburst. Mary’s head dropping, and turning red in embarrassment. All the guests first staring at Martha, then Mary, and then at Jesus, waiting to see what he would say.
Perhaps some felt that Jesus would rebuke Mary. After all, she really should have been helping Martha. Back in those days, it was not very common for women to learn from a Rabbi (although we clearly see through the gospels that Jesus wasn’t one to hold to convention).
Perhaps others felt that Jesus would rebuke Martha. After all, a woman back in those days simply did not interrupt a great Rabbi like Jesus with her petty complaints.
But Jesus did neither. Instead, he looked at Martha, perhaps with pity, and no doubt with compassion, saying,
Martha, Martha…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. (41-42)
I find those words “only one thing is needed” very interesting. The question is, “Needed by whom?” Needed by Jesus? Or needed by Martha? The answer is probably both.
Martha needed time with Jesus. She needed time to rest from her work. Time to hear his words. Time to learn from him and grow. And even more than that, time to learn how much he truly valued her.
Mary chose all those things, and Jesus was happy to give them to her.
On the other hand, Jesus didn’t really need the food that Martha was preparing. He didn’t need a perfectly clean house. What he needed was time with Martha. Here Martha had opened up her house to him, and yet was so busy “serving him,” she didn’t even talk with him other than giving him a cursory hello.
How about you? Have you opened up your heart to Jesus? And if you have, have you left him in the living room of your heart while you busy yourself with other things. Or are you taking the time to be with him every day. Learning from him. Talking to him. Spending time with him.
That’s what he wants more than anything else. That’s what he died for. To have an intimate relationship with you.
There’s a small booklet called My Heart, Christ’s home, which I love. And one passage in there perfectly reflects this thought. In it, Jesus speaks to a man, saying,
“The trouble with you is this: you have been thinking of the quiet time, of the Bible study and prayer time, as a factor in your own spiritual progress, but you have forgotten that this hour means something to me also. Remember, I love you. I have redeemed you at great cost. I value your fellowship. Now, do not neglect this hour if only for my sake. Whatever else may be your desire, remember I want your fellowship!”
May we never forget what Jesus truly desires.