Day 8, Chapter 8: The Distractions
Yesterday we began looking at the biblical account of Mary and Martha, two sisters who entertained Jesus in their home. While Martha was distracted as she prepared Him a meal, Mary was seated at the Lord’s feet hearing and understanding His words. The passage is so pregnant with revelation it merits another look.
Now as they were traveling along, [Jesus] entered a certain village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. And she had a sister called Mary, who moreover was listening to the Lord’s word, seated at His feet. 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 all the serving along? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42).
I’ve already acknowledged my tendency toward Martha-ism. I am important, after all! Someone once gave me a double-billed cap – one pointing left, the other right – imprinted with the words, “I’m their leader. Which way did they go?”
I still wear it proudly! How sadly appropriate is this cap. There was a time when I needed only two of me to accomplish all of the “urgent” and “important” things I’m “called” to do. Now, I need me in triplicate. And my Martha ministry is still growing – soon I’ll need to be omnipresent!
Jesus disagreed with this outlook on ministry. In a loving yet stern way, He told Martha she was “worried and bothered about so many things” (v. 41). Not good, especially when we take a deeper look. “Worried” is merimnao, which has in its root meaning the concept of dividing or separating something. It is revealing that worry is defined by a “divided” mind. When we’re worried about something, no matter how hard we try to focus on other things, a piece of our mind keeps being drawn back to our concern. Our mind, therefore, is described as being “divided into parts,” a phrase used to define merimnao. Martha, it seems, had so much going on in her life that her mind was divided between many concerns; “so many things” was the phrase Jesus used. And like all of us at times, her balancing act wasn’t working as well as she thought. She was “worried and bothered”.
Martha was in all likelihood servant – motivated. She was probably one of those gifted people who can do several things at once, and was most likely a hard worker. In this instance, however, Mary had it right. Multitasking can be good, but not when Jesus is talking.
The Lord appreciates hard work, and He knows that at times we are going to be very busy. But He also wants times when we’re all His. Take the cap off and sit for a while.
The word bothered is also painfully revealing. It is the Greek word turbazo, which is derived from the Latin word turba, meaning “a crowd”. Webster says “disturb”, “perturb”, and “turbulent” are all derivatives of the same word.2 When life gets too crowded we get disturbed. Perturbed comes next, followed by turbulence. Like an airplane flying through a storm, our emotions bounce up and down, making us short-tempered and irritable. Our health suffers, as do our relationships. Martha was not only irritated at Mary, she was even a little miffed at Jesus. “Do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me,” she grumbled. Barking out orders to God in accusatory language probably created just a little bit of turbulence in this room full of people!
Mary wasn’t the problem, however, and Jesus certainly wasn’t. Martha simply needed to take her cap off, slow down, and listen. Her crowded mind couldn’t shut out all the noise. Many offices nowadays have ambient noise generators. They admit constant but quiet sound, low enough so as not to be disturbing, yet loud enough to drown out other noises. They’re used in phone centers to drown out other voices, in counseling offices to provide privacy, and in various other businesses.
Martha’s ambient noise generator was her service for Christ. Amazing, but true. Believe me, I understand. Her generator was the rattling of dishes, the banging of cupboards, and the clanging of utensils; my generator is the internal noise caused by travel, preaching and teaching, writing, correspondence, meetings, Give Him 15s, and more. All good, but not when they muffle the voice of the Master. Your ambient noise generator may be running a business, driving nails, keeping books, raising kids, social media, or even a hobby. It doesn’t matter what it is, just turn it off once in a while.
Mary didn’t have one of those contraptions. She was mesmerized by His words. Her attitude was, “If He wants something to eat, He’d better stop talking. Because until He does, I’m not leaving this spot.”
Why did Martha feel differently? Perhaps it was her personality, or could it be that Jesus had grown a little too familiar to her? Scholars agree that Jesus was very fond of Martha, Mary, and their brother, Lazarus, and stayed in their home when in the area. Had Martha heard Him enough that the excitement had worn off? Does this ever happen to us?
In Christianity today, Philip Yancey writes:
I remember my first visit to Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park. Rings of Japanese and German tourists surrounded the geyser, their video cameras trained like weapons on the famous hole in the ground. A large, digital clock stood beside the spot, predicting 24 minutes until the next eruption. My wife and I passed the countdown in the dining room of Old Faithful Inn overlooking the geyser. When the digital clock reached 1 minute, we, along with every other diner, left our seats and rushed to the window to see the big, wet event.
I noticed that immediately, as if on signal, a crew of busboys and waiters descended on the tables to refill water glasses and clear away dirty dishes. When the geyser went off, we tourists oohed and aahed and clicked our cameras; a few spontaneously applauded. But, glancing back over my shoulder, I saw that not a single waiter or busboy – not even those who had finished their chores – looked out the huge window. Old Faithful, grown entirely too familiar, had lost its power to impress them.3
I’m afraid this describes many Christians’ relationship with the one we call Faithful and True. We’ve known Him so long, become so accustomed to Him, well, you know…
Don’t ever stop being impressed with Jesus!
It’s interesting that those in this story who had lost their wonder over Old Faithful were “kitchen people” – just like Martha. Get out of the kitchen once in a while. Slow down. STOP!
Fight tenaciously for quality time at His feet and never lose your hunger for the pleasure of His company.
Pray with me:
Father, we thank You for never ceasing to communicate with us. But so often we let Your voice be drowned out by other noises. Help us always remember that which is most important. You are worthy of the highest affections of our hearts. The harsh yoke of busyness and heavy burden of over-activity, we take off now and lay at Your feet.
Holy Spirit, help us to continually break away from the bustle and shut out all the noise. Today, we choose to cease from striving, so that with singleness of heart, we can rest at Christ’s feet, and be washed in Your words and love. May busyness never crowd out of our lives precious opportunities to enjoy the pleasure of Your company.
And Father, we want those who are coming into the family to be Marys – from the start. Our prayer is that they are born into a “presence” movement, an “I’ve tasted and I’ve seen” movement. May they be “Presence Junkies!” Addicted! Give us this revival! Give us this revival!! We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
A church is coming forth that will listen first, then do exploits.
Today’s post was taken from my book The Pleasure of His Company.
- Jan Senn, “Carol Kent on Keeping Confident,” Today’s Christian Woman, January/February 1995, p 68.
- The Consolidated Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary (Chicago: Consolidated Book Publishers, 1954), s.vv. “disturb,” “perturb,” “turbulent.”
Philip Yancy, “What Surprised Jesus,” Christianity Today, September 12, 1994, 88. Used by permission.