I hope this day finds you and your family well. I invite you to take a few moments with me to read and reflect upon today’s scripture selection — and to carry these thoughts with you into your day.
Today’s Scripture: Luke 10:38-42
38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing.[a] Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Tim’s Devotional Reflection for Today
Our text is the story of Mary and Martha from the tenth chapter of Luke. Jesus is visiting in the home of a woman named Martha and her sister Mary. Mary sits at the Lord’s feet — the posture of a rabbi’s student in Jesus’ day — and listens to what he is saying.
But Martha is, the text says, “preoccupied with getting everything ready for their meal.” When Martha complains that Mary is just sitting there, not helping her with all the chores of hospitality and that Jesus should direct Mary to help, Jesus’ reply to Martha’s demand was gentle.
I can imagine Jesus reaching out and patting her arm with a calm and reassuring touch and then, with a smile, saying, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
What is the one thing that is necessary?
What is the better part we should choose?
In the classic Billy Crystal movie, “City Slickers,” three long-time friends face middle age. In their middle-age crisis, they find themselves losing their focus and in danger of losing their families.
To reignite the fire in their lives the guys sign up as “cowboys,” helping a dude ranch move its herd of cattle from high in the hills down to the lower valley. “Curly,” the grizzled old cowboy who leads them, seems to be the toughest, wisest person they have ever met.
Billy Crystal is riding with him when the usually tight-lipped cowboy is unusually talkative. Billy’s character is trying to figure out what the cowboy’s secret is. What makes his life so strong and centered and sure?
Curly finally says, “Do you know what the secret of life is?”
Curly smiles, raises his grubby, gloved index finger.
“This, your finger?”
Curly answers, “One thing. Just one thing.”
“That’s great, but what’s the one thing?”
“That’s what you’ve got to figure out.”
Billy’s character spends the rest of the movie frantically trying to figure out what Curly meant. What IS that “just one thing?”
In today’s reading, it seems that Mary was clear about the priority. She was present and not distracted by busyness.
At the same time, Jesus was not criticizing Martha for her work or her efforts to be a good host. Rather, he was pointing out that she was getting so caught up in her busyness and distractedness that she was missing the sacredness of the present moment.
The “one thing” in this story was to live in the moment and to be present to Jesus in that moment. If you identify more with Martha who is actually working and getting something accomplished and don’t appreciate how her work seems undervalued, then you might enjoy Giuseppe Belli’s 19th-century sonnet, “Martha and Magdalene.” It ends with Martha’s snapping back at Jesus when he tells her that Mary’s choice is more important: “So says you, but I know better. Listen, if I sat around on my salvation the way she does, who’d keep this house together?” (Robert Atwan, et al, eds., Divine Inspiration: The Life of Jesus in World Poetry, New York_ Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 209).
Martha’s work is important, but so is Mary’s attentiveness. Can’t both be valued? Perhaps Charles Wesley said this best:
“Faithful to my Lord’s commands /
I still would choose the better part;
Serve with careful Martha’s hands /
And loving Mary’s heart.”
The problem is that Martha has become “distracted” or it can be translated “preoccupied.” The Greek literally means “dragged around.” She is being “dragged around” by the random tasks she was attempting to complete as she was trying to be a good host. It was not Martha’s commitment to serving her guest that was a problem — it was her inability to focus on that “one thing” which was most important in the moment.
It is my prayer for us that we will learn to count our days and “gain a wise heart,” to use the words of Psalm 90:12. A wise heart means that we are clear about the brevity of life and what is most important in our lives. I suspect that the process of gaining a wise heart probably never ends.
Today, I invite you to consider your worries and distractions and how they may be keeping you from being fully present to what is most important. What we do with our lives — in the present and in the limited time we have — matters a great deal.
As we journey through this life, knowing that our time is limited, the wisdom literature of the Bible tells us to remain mindful of living in the present. I can look back and see how anxious I have been much of my life for “the next thing” to arrive: the next grade, the driver’s license, graduation, college degree, master’s degree, doctorate, etc. That’s not a bad thing. Goals are important and looking forward to the next thing is exciting and much of the fun of life is in the anticipation.
However, this focus turns tragic when we fail to live in the present — when we’re so focused on the future that we miss life now. Don’t miss out on the present. Savor the time you have right now. Make the most of your time right now where you are in your life. Make the most of every opportunity you have right now. This time, these opportunities, will never come again.
Years ago, a sign in a gas station caught my attention. It was entitled “One to a Customer.” It was so good I got a piece of paper and wrote it down:
ONE TO A CUSTOMER
Today is a gift, a wonderful gift. This gift is the same for everyone – 24 hours, 1440 minutes.
Today holds opportunities, joys, satisfaction. This day holds a new chance. It is in today that life is lived. Use it wisely and carefully. Make the most of it. Enjoy it, for there is only one to a customer.
The Good News is that today is a gift. It’s a new beginning. It’s a fresh start and it truly is where life is lived. Ephesians 5:15 says, “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time…”
Hymn Suggestion: “O God, Our Help in Ages Past”
Isaac Watts (1719)
O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home:
Under the shadow of your throne
your saints have dwelt secure;
sufficient is your arm alone,
and our defense is sure.
Before the hills in order stood,
or earth received its frame,
from everlasting you are God,
to endless years the same.
A thousand ages in your sight
are like an evening gone,
short as the watch that ends the night
before the rising sun.
Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
soon bears us all away;
we fly forgotten, as a dream
dies at the op’ning day.
O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
still be our guard while troubles last,
and our eternal home!
Thank you for sharing this moment of your day with me, with God, and with these reflections on a portion of scripture. I hope you will carry these with you throughout your day and night.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster