The most important thing
A devotional thought by Clare Norris
I think I’ve always misunderstood the Mary and Martha story. One sister was doing all the work and one sister was just lying about, right? And with a great excuse to dodge the jobs, too: Jesus was in the house.
Jesus visits the home of sisters, Mary and Martha, receives their hospitality and teaches there. Martha gets about putting on the meal and Mary sits down to listen to Jesus.
The central exchange between Martha and Jesus is found at Luke 10: 40-42:
40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” ESV
What struck me when I recently studied this story again is that Jesus’ response to Martha did not reflect the rebuke she probably deserved. She basically told Jesus what to do and Jesus sees that but responds with gentleness and patience when he explains to Martha what is really going on. Mary is focused on the only important thing: Resting in the Lord’s presence and hearing what Jesus has to say.
Martha is left to process this and probably to deal with her own feelings of irritation and perceived injustice. Mary’s gravitation towards Jesus at that time may appear unfair but is such a good lesson in prioritisation. There will always be the ‘work of the household’ to take up and there may also be a dissatisfaction from others at our priorities.
Despite the strained family dynamic we can all probably relate to, I found this short passage to ultimately be freeing. Jesus’ gentle message to Martha (and to Mary) tells us that there is peace and rest, restorative rest, at the feet of Jesus even in the busiest of times. It also repeats and confirms the deep rest Jesus tells us can be found in him and which cannot be found in the world (Matt 11:28-30)
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.