In Luke 10, we meet two sisters, Mary and Martha. Their story has almost become a cliché for focusing on the right things. I would say it's a key reminder (especially to those in ministry), on how to put the correct lenses into your spiritual eyes. Mary seems to see 20/20, while Martha thinks she’s seeing clearly, but is not.
Here's the passage:
Now as they were traveling along, He (Jesus) entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. And she had a sister called Mary, who was also seated at the Lord’s feet, and was listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do the serving by myself? Then tell her to help me.”
But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; but only one thing is necessary; for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
First, it’s important to note that Martha wasn’t “all bad” in her desire to prepare donuts and coffee for their special guest. However, it says she was distracted – a Greek word (perispao) which means over-occupied. If Martha had merely been occupied with her preparations, fine. But she was clearly over-occupied.
It's this kind of over-occupation to secondary things that clouds our vision to primary things. Worse, it can unsettle our heart. Martha's response to Mary's devotion to Jesus is telling: "Lord, don't you care?" How quickly we can move from noble intentions of service to accusations against God – that he doesn't care about us.
I remember my role as director of CCC at JMU, where hundreds of collegians kept me hopping. I was constantly tempted to be Martha, over-occupied with endless demands and needs. It seemed inherent to my role. I thought the only way I could be faithful to my job description was to be Martha 2.0. I recall sitting at my desk, staring at a blank piece of paper. I began to itemize all the things on my plate, jotting down 63 mission-critical efforts I was responsible for! That’s crazy. No one should be responsible for 63 things. I was so busy chasing these 63 objectives that I put a nail clipper on my key ring, so that whenever my car stopped at a red light, I could clip a nail or two to buy up the time. I was Martha on steroids.
Though I’m still a hard worker, I’m happy to report that I gave up on my “63-addiction” (and took the clipper off my key chain). It was untenable. Instead, I replaced my Martha addiction with a better one: Jesus and His Word. I decided I would do less of the 63, and spend more time alone with Jesus. Like Mary.
How did I do this?
During my years at JMU, I became a local yokel at the best bagel shop in America. Mr. J’s Bagel Shop became my office. I’d visit most mornings and order the same thing: an everything bagel with hazelnut coffee. Some days, while waiting in line, a friend or acquaintance would stop me and ask, “Dan! What are you doing here? Are you meeting someone?” I’d reply: “Yes, in fact, I am meeting someone. His name is Jesus, and he’s right over there in that booth, and we’re going to spend time together in his Word.” I am not lying. This was my standard response, because it was true. I needed time alone at Jesus’ feet, just like Mary.
This wonderful bagel shop (which I miss dearly) became my most coveted meeting place with Jesus. I loved our times together so much that I privately renamed the store: “Mr. J’s Bagel Shop ... J is for Jesus.”
If we are to keep our eyes focused on Jesus, we must return over and over to the beautiful example of our sister, Mary. And I suggest doing it over a bagel and coffee.