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The Rev. Frank Logue
King of Peace Episcopal Church
Kingsland, Georgia
July 22, 2001

Choosing the Better Part
Luke 10:38-42

Martha. She has an important guest. A very important guest. Jesus has come to her home. Her home. Jewish teachers don’t come to the home of a woman to teach, yet he is there and he is teaching. This is very important. Martha wants everything to be just right. The house, the food, everything should be perfect. She may never have this chance again.

Mary. This is an important chance. Jesus is in Martha’s home. Mary sits at his feet soaking in his teaching. Sitting at his feet. Listening to his teaching. This is what the men do. But Jesus is not like other teachers. For Jesus it doesn’t matter whether you are a man or a woman. Either way you are a child of God. Both men and women can listen to his teaching. This is very important. She listens intently as Jesus teaches in Martha’s home. She may never have this chance again.

Then comes trouble. Martha is upset. What is Mary doing? What can she be thinking? There is so much to do. The work will never all get done and there Mary sits. Doesn’t she see all that needs doing? Can’t she help? Martha has no choice. She interrupts Jesus. He’ll remind Mary to help her sister and then everything will be right again.

But what does Jesus do? Jesus tells Martha that she, Martha is too busy, too distracted to see what really matters. Jesus says, “There is need of only one thing.” Mary understands that. Mary chose the better part.

Jesus. What is he thinking? He’s been on the road surrounded by crowds. He’s taught in the streets and in the countryside. He’s been healing the sick, casting out demons and struggling with the religious leaders of his day. It seems like Jesus would be pretty hungry, doesn’t it? Is everyone supposed to just sit at Jesus’ feet and listen? When will the work get done? I mean teaching is great, but he was human too. You have to eat, right? The house must be cared for. What’s going on here? What is Jesus really telling us?

What he says is that only one thing matters. Then he doesn’t tell us exactly what the one thing is. This scene from Luke is not unlike the scene from City Slickers that started our service. In the movie, the grizzled ranch hand Curly says to Billy Crystal’s character, “Only one thing matters, but it’s up to you to determine what that one thing will be.”

Christ and the cowboy are each giving the same advice—put first thing first, keep the main thing the main thing. It’s a matter of priorities. Decide what the main thing is and everything falls into place. After all, as the saying goes, if you don’t set your priorities, everyone else will. You can decide what’s most important to you and then you can give that one thing your priority time.

Mary decided that her knowledge and love of God were her one thing, her first priority. For Martha, her relationship with Jesus was important and she would get around to it after she finished all the tasks in front of her. Isn’t that what we do? It’s all to easy too say that finding meaning and purpose in your life is important. It’s easy to say that you want to explore more about this whole God thing and decide for yourself where you stand. It’s easy to say that you want your relationship with God to come first. But then it is even easier to let those ideals stand idly by while you stay busy with the mundane day to day tasks of life.

But those mundane tasks have to be done by someone. The groceries have to be bought. The meals have to be cooked. The house has to be cleaned. The TV has to be watched. Well, maybe not that last one. But the point still holds. A lot of boring and somewhat irrelevant stuff has to get done, right? Sure it does.

The Christian writer Frederick Buechner once wrote, “I am a part-time novelist who happens also to be a part-time Christian because part of the time seems to be the most I can manage to live out my faith: Christian part of the time when certain things seem real and important to me and the rest of the time not Christian in any sense that I can believe matters much to Christ or anyone else…. From time to time I find a kind of heroism momentarily possible—a seeing, doing, telling of Christly truth—but most of the time I am indistinguishable from the rest of the herd that jostles and snuffles to the great trough of life.”

I think that Buechner is right to point out that in the mundane details of our lives, Christians are no different from any other person. Christians don’t shop for groceries with a deep-seated purpose unknown to others. Christians don’t find a deeper meaning in cleaning the bathroom. But all of those mundane things are the other stuff, the rest of life. Getting first things first can be a helpful way to keep the minor stuff minor.

Jesus challenges Martha to not get so lost in the many distractions of her life that she lose sight of what really matters to her. Martha should set aside the work for a time and sit at Jesus’ feet to listen and learn. Sitting, listening and learning sound great, but there is one big problem. Sooner or later, everyone, Jesus included, is going to get hungry and somebody has to make dinner.

There must be a part of the story we missed somewhere. Surely Jesus doesn’t want us to drop everything to only study His word. I mean, who would we rather have volunteer at King of Peace? Martha or Mary? Martha, right? Well, I think ideally you would want someone as spiritually grounded as Mary, but as industrious as Martha, wouldn’t you? So does our Lord. And if we take a closer look at our story and it’s context we’ll find that Jesus is telling us we need balance.

It’s important to note what has just happened. In the verses leading up to our passage for today, Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan. That was our Gospel lesson for last week, and it is in this story which gives the context for Mary and Martha.

The parable I referred to last week as the Compassionate Samaritan can help us to interpret today’s lesson. You’ll remember that a lawyer confronted Jesus. Lawyer is how the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible refers to him. We know that the law he was well-versed in was Moses Law—scripture. He asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks him what he has found in the law. The lawyer gives a good scriptural answer saying “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with you’re your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” The answer is flawless and Jesus replies, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” Then being a good lawyer and wanting to hone the distinctions, the man asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” In answer Jesus tells the parable.

In the story, there is a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho who falls in the hands of robbers. A priest and a Levite, who, like the lawyer himself, are well-grounded in a knowledge of scripture see the injured man and leave him by the side of the road to die. The third man is from Samaria. He’s a man the lawyer would consider beneath him. It is the Samaritan who tends to the mans wounds and arranges for him to be cared for. Jesus then asks, “who is the neighbor of the injured man?” The lawyer answers correctly that he “is the one who showed mercy.”

In the parable, Jesus tells of two men who know God’s word but yet don’t act on it. It is in that context that Luke would have us read our brief story from today. The two stories fit together to form a complete picture. The story of the Good Samaritan and the story of Martha and Mary are complementary. Read together, they show how we are to act to achieve a balance.

God’s Word, now revealed to us in scripture, is very important. But it is not enough for us to merely read it and understand. We have to also do something about it. God’s Word should transform our lives, changing our behavior as well.

Jesus met a man who knew the scripture backwards and forwards, but somehow missed the meaning. Then he met a woman so busy serving that she too was missing the meaning of Jesus. To the lawyer Jesus says, “Stop studying and do something about it.” To Martha Jesus says, “Stop your busyness and listen.” If we were to ask Jesus, “Does the parable of the Good Samaritan apply to my life? Or is it the story of Martha and Mary?,” Jesus answer would probably be “Yes.” Because at different times, each of these stories applies to each of us.

If you find yourself busy with many things, but never making time to read the Bible and pray, then the story of Mary and Martha should be speaking to you. The things that busy your life may be good and necessary, but should they have your top priority? What comes first for you now? Job, friends, family, relationship with God, mundane tasks. All of these demand time. How much time do you have to give to each? Many people say that their family and faith are most important, but it’s a challenge to put those priority into action. What do you want to be first in your life? The story of Mary and Martha is a wake up call to look at your priorities.

But, if you do find the time for prayer and Bible study, but you without allowing what you read and study to be transformed into service toward others, then you might want to reread the Parable of the Compassionate Samaritan to find out if God is speaking to you through that story. Perhaps you need to put your faith into action.

Jesus’ challenge is not one-sized fits all. Jesus’ advice is not generic, but universal. Each of us has come here today at a different point in our spiritual journeys. Someone is probably here just hoping to survive another day. Someone else is here looking for meaning and purpose in life. The list of where we are and what we need from God goes on. God is reaching out to each of us where we are now to take us a step or two further along the way.

Like the cowboy told the city slicker in the movie clip that started the worship service, you can’t do it all. You can’t spend most of the year bogged down with busyness getting yourself turned inside out only to try unkink all those aching stressed muscles on an even busier vacation. The way to let go of the stress is to set and keep your own priorities. Decide what the one thing is and let it come first. Decide what the main things in your life are and then give them your best time, your best energy, then the rest of the things you need to do will get the rest of your time not the best of it. After all, the day-to-day stuff does have to get done, but you really have need of only one thing. Chose the better part.

Amen.

 

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