Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42 ESV
In the Gospel of Luke, the visit of Jesus to the home of Mary, Martha & Lazarus brings about this brief but precious conversation — and an arresting statement. What is this “one thing necessary” that Jesus speaks about?
In directing Martha (and all of us) to turn to “the one thing necessary” our Lord points to a contrast here, that Mary had chosen better — a superior use of her time, a more important focus for her energies and cares. Jesus told Martha that she was anxious and troubled about many things. Granted, Martha was not doing anything inherently wrong; in fact she was doing much that was good! Yet, Jesus implies that her heart was tangled up, her busyness was not right. She was distracted and worried and upset in a worldly way. Our hearts can be pulled away from the Lord by busyness in respectable activities. God does not want our busyness — religious or otherwise. God wants our hearts. Indeed the greatest commandment of all of Scripture is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. (Matthew 22:37-38). This is what Mary appears to be doing — learning at the feet of Jesus, even worshipping as she took in His words of truth and life. She put first things first and Jesus was so very pleased!
Jesus points to Mary and tells Martha (and us): that’s the better thing, that is the one thing necessary! Oh how the world misunderstands what God requires — and how much those who are merely religious miss the most important thing. Many people think they know what Jesus wants, but will not listen to His very words here to Martha! As a famous preacher once said, it should be our first and sole business to attend to our soul’s business!