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
For many of us, one of our greatest challenges lies in how we figure out our priorities: when we are confronted by the myriad choices of how to spend our time, our money, and our talents, we can become easily overwhelmed by the sheer volume of choices. A simple Google search of “how to set my priorities” offers countless ways that experts offer insight into the task of prioritization; however, at its heart, this choice is one that requires a shift in our focus away from our own desires to the heart of how we can best serve God, deepen our relationship with Him, and deepen our relationships with each other. When you are faced with many different choices, how do you decide where you should place your emphasis? What guides your decision making process?
When Jesus arrives at Mary and Martha’s home, Martha begins to prepare for their visitors. She prepares the meal, ensures that Jesus and His disciples are able to clean their hands and feet, and makes sure appropriate arrangements are made so they can rest from their journey.
The Bible says that “Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” The Greek word for “distracted” is perispato which can literally be translated as “driven about,” often describing the feeling of distraction quite well.
Martha, in the midst of feeling overwhelmed, tells Jesus to make Mary help her in her tasks, since Mary has been sitting at the feet of her teacher, listening to the lesson that He is sharing with His disciples and most likely other houseguests who have come to be hear Jesus speak. Martha’s words, “don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” are ones that resonate with many of us who have been in situations where we feel that we are left to shoulder a burden by ourselves unduly.
Jesus’ response to Martha is that “few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better.” His words mean that Mary’s decision to listen to His words are the only necessary thing in her life; the preparations to entertain Jesus are not as important as the decision to have a personal relationship with God’s Son.
For years, I have had a post-it note on my computer monitor in my home office that says, “God First, Others Second, Me Last.” These six words are my attempt to organize all of the priorities of my life into a simple, straightforward manner, and in all honesty, I fail to follow this priority, at least as often as I succeed. Jesus’ interactions with Mary and Martha, point to a slightly different way of spelling out priorities: God Only.
Lord God, You have invited us to live our lives for You, focusing not on the confusion of the world around us but rather on Your call to each of us to be Your children and instruments of Your reconciliation in Creation. Help us to see what is important in life, to live into the reality that we are a redeemed people who You desire to know deeply and who You have called to know each other in vulnerable and meaningful ways. Help us to know the truth of Your priorities for each of us, even as we respond to the call that You have placed on our lives. In Christ’s name, we pray; amen.