We come to the famous story of “Martha and Mary.” It is a story that has been interpreted on many different levels, but, in the words of Jesus, “one thing is necessary,” and there is one controlling aspect of the message which we are to take on board and apply.
Certainly, the story encourages us not to be too busy, like Martha. There is a particular personality type that is only happy when it is in perpetual motion. But business is not the same as productivity. Merely to work long hours is not the same as to be fruitful.
Again, the story encourages us not be anxious about many things, like Martha. Often what drives the business is a deep-rooted concern for the many things that are going on and a need to be ensuring that those things do not go wrong. But while it is natural enough to be anxious, we must remember that anxiety rarely solved anything by self. We cannot even add an hour to our life by worrying about our life (indeed worrying may shorten our life!), so there is little point in indulging in such a useless emotion.
But while both these, and other, versions of the message “Don’t be like Martha” are worthy and helpful, to some extent, pieces of advice, the story itself is focused beyond the merely practical level of managing your life in a way that is no longer either uncontrollably anxious or ceaselessly busy. After all, someone needed to do the serving! And this interpretation of the story can sometimes seem to encourage a sort of passivity, a “Mary” like sitting around and not doing much—while other people do all the work!
But Mary is praised not for her passivity but for receptivity. Note what Mary is doing: she “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching” (10:39). This is the “good portion” (see Psalm 16:5) that will not be taken away from her, namely Jesus himself and his teaching. This is the “one thing that is necessary”: Jesus himself and his teaching.
So the point of the story is not so much to help us with our too-busy schedules—though there may be food for thought here for some. But the point of the story is to help us focus all our energies and efforts on what is the primary matter of life: Jesus and listening to him. Of course, if we really listen, we will truly learn, and having truly learned we will be transformed to live lives of discipleship and service as a result. But it all starts with this “one thing”: Jesus and his Word.
You might like, then, to take the time today to do a “schedule check.” It is sometimes said that if you want to know what a person really values you only need two pieces of information: 1) his or her schedule and 2) his or her tax returns. And of the two, the most important is the schedule. For we can always make more money. We can never make more time.
So then it may be time for you to do a “schedule check.”
Is it really true that your schedule reflects this “one thing”? I recently downloaded a simple free app that can record where you actually spend your time each day. I won’t tell you the results! But it is interesting to note how much time you really spend in God’s Word, how much time you really spend…watching TV!
There is another application too. Could it be that much of the ceaseless activity of the contemporary church is less fruitful than it could be, not because it has not correctly applied the best practices with relation to strategic planning or institutional management, but because the actual priority of the church is not focused on the “one thing” of Jesus and His Word?
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