Serving and Listening

Luke 10:38-42
1Jn 4:7-16 / Psa 34

…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 10:41-42)

In all the things we say and do
Lead us to ‘choose the better part’,
Grant us the grace to serve anew
With Martha’s hands and Mary’s heart.

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!” But Jesus answered her, “Martha, Martha, 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)


According to Jewish custom at the time, women were not supposed to sit and listen (together with the men) to the teachings of rabbis or scribes, especially in the homes where common hospitality dictated their duty to help prepare refreshments or meals for the guests. One can only imagine the stress and the burden of work that Martha, the older sister and hostess must have been under, seeing as she was doing all the work alone in the kitchen preparing food for Jesus and His apostles. Added to this was the sense of injustice that Martha must have felt, missing out in the opportunity of hearing the wisdom of the Master, while her younger sister was taking it all in, without any care that Martha was getting nothing and doing all the work.

One can therefore understand why Martha “lost her cool”, and being a close friend of Jesus, took the liberty of telling her honored guest to reprimand Mary, who had left her to do all the work by herself. Certainly, she must have regretted this outburst later on when all her guests had left, but observe how prudently our Lord handled the awkward situation, gently calming the distraught Martha. It was not necessary for her to prepare so much to the point of exertion – just “a few things are needed—or indeed only one” — maybe just a glass of water for a weary traveler. There was a more important thing to do than hosting, and that was listening to the words of God.

Jesus earlier taught not to worry about these material things. “Your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt.6:32-34) Mary had indeed chosen the better portion, and no elder sister or traditional Jewish custom was going to prevent her from pursuing this “pearl of great price”. Gaining wisdom and true happiness is all a matter of choice, a question of setting our priorities to achieve our ultimate goal. What is our priority in life? Is it to work hard and make as much money to be able to provide for the future of our children and to enjoy our years of retirement? Fine. But how much time are we setting aside to develop our relationship with the Lord – in prayer and in good works, in “listening at His feet” by meditating on His Word? In our busy-ness, we might be missing out on the most important thing– our intimate relationship with Jesus that can put all our activities into proper perspective.

Father God, help us to understand that it is not so much what we accomplish or strive to do for our family, church or community that is pleasing to You, but how we are transformed by listening to Your Word, and living by it. Grant that we may never be distracted by worldly concerns as we seek to follow Your will in our life. Amen.

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