As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “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.” (Luke 10:38-42)
Last week, I argued that in order to best glorify God and love others through our work, we should pursue becoming a “master of one” rather than drifting into becoming a “master of none.” To do this, we must get clarity on the work God has created us to do and the courage to say “no” to virtually everything else.
I don’t think anybody understood this better than Jesus who displayed a remarkable awareness of the natural limits time and attention place on our ability to fulfill our life’s calling, or what Jesus referred to as the work the Father gave him to do (see John 17:4).
In Luke 9:51, we are told, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (emphasis mine). The picture here isn’t of Jesus scattering himself across a myriad of nonessential activities. Jesus was laser focused on his “one thing”: preaching the good news of redemption in word and ultimate deed.
In today’s passage, we are told that as Jesus was “on the way” to fulfilling that mission, he stopped by the home of Mary and Martha and taught a lesson on focus that they (and we) so desperately need. In the scene, we find Martha distracted by many things, while Mary was focused on just one. Jesus’s response? “Few things are needed—or indeed only one.”
Commenting on this passage, Tim Keller hit the nail on the head: “[Mary] decided what was important, and she did not let the day-to-day get her away from that. As a result, she was drawn into a greatness we don’t even dream of. Because we are more like Martha than Mary, we’re sinking in a sea of mediocrity” (emphasis mine).
The world is constantly pressuring us to be more like Martha than Mary, convincing us that the path to happiness and impact is the path of more—more jobs, more commitments, more money, etc. But here, Jesus offers us a better, simpler, saner way. He offers us the path of less but better.
In a world full of Marthas, let us allow Jesus’s words to permeate every aspect of our lives, especially our work. Instead of scattering our gifts and energy in a million directions, let us seek the one vocational thing we believe the Father has given us to do and then master that work for his glory and the good of others.
How do we begin to find our “one thing”? That’s the question we will turn to next week.