Our society places great value on activity, on outward accomplishments. “Business” comes from “busy-ness” and the word “manage” from the Latin word for hand, “manu”. When people meet after a long absence, the question is usually ”What have you been doing?” Has anyone asked you what you have been thinking, or enjoying? I had that experience once. I called to see an elderly couple. After I was seated he thrust a bible into my hands and asked me what I had been enjoying lately. A good challenge for us all!
If we turn to Luke 10:38-41 we find the Lord in Martha’s house, Martha serving and Mary “who also, having sat down at the feet of Jesus, was listening to his word. Now Martha was distracted with much serving, and coming up she said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Speak to her therefore that she may help me. But Jesus answering said to her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things; but there is need of one, and Mary has chosen the good part, the which shall not be taken from her.” The Lord accepted Martha’s service and said nothing until she complained about her sister. The Lord was honoured more by Mary’s attentiveness than by Martha’s service. The latter was good, but Mary’s was better. She had chosen the “good part”. I have heard that the “the good part” refers to the choicest portion kept for a distinguished guest. In our day a wife will whisper to her husband when carving a roast: “Give the visitors the best bit”.
This is not to belittle service. It has a necessary and an important place. Surely we are to be diligent, but Martha had become careful, i.e. full of care, anxious, distracted. Service can become an end in itself – it can take on a life of its own. Service can draw attention to self, instead of Christ. Martha had become distracted and troubled by many things, but there was need of one. How good to have the ability to discern the one needed thing at any point. What is the most important thing to occupy me now?
It is good to sit quietly with an opened Bible, read a bit, and think. Let the Lord speak. I don’t mean that a voice will come out of the air, but he can plant impressions in the mind. Paul says to Timothy: “Think of what I say, and the Lord will give you understanding in all things”. In Proverbs 15:30 we are told “That which enlightens the eyes rejoices the heart”. It is not wasted time, it is invested time. Time spent in the presence of the Lord will have a result later. I believe the Lord will arrange the circumstances to give expression to the formation that has gone on in secret. An example of this is found in John 12:1-3 (and Matthew 26).
Here we get another household episode, where Mary, Martha and Lazarus are seen again. Lazarus is never reported to have said anything. He was just there - but as a remarkable witness to the Lord’s resurrection power. Martha was again the worker - without any negative aspect to her service. And Mary, formerly the student, now becomes the worshipper. Again, Mary is criticized – this time by the disciples. Martha had insinuated that she was wasting time in the first occasion, and here she was condemned for wasting money. The Lord defended her on both counts.
There is a contrast between Mary and the disciples. They had been with the Lord and served arduously for three years and a half but never seemed to ever have understood his mind until after his resurrection. To quote just some instances - they wanted to call down fire from heaven, to turn the little ones away from being blessed, to send the crowds away hungry, to be greatest in the kingdom and to forbid the activities of a person who was not following with them. Further, they did not understand when the Lord told them plainly that he must suffer and die at the hands of the leaders. Yet Mary, who had relatively little contact with the Lord, seems to have been the only one who was in sympathy with him. What a lesson for us. We may attend services, be active on all sorts of committees and have public prominence, yet not really be in tune with the Lord’s mind.
Some may say that they cannot find the time. A mother with children may find that time is not her own. We all have to perform chores that are somewhat mindless. It may be possible to profitably use such time. I had puzzled over an issue for a quite a while, and the answer came to me recently while I was getting dressed!
Let us beware of over-achievement. Practice the presence of the Lord. Consider moving from one mode to another as the occasion presents itself - at times to just be present and enjoy the proceedings; at other times to serve as needed without distraction; and then to be in the Lord’s presence as learners and worshippers.
MM December, 2006