As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. Philippians 3:7-9
Can the purpose in life all be boiled down to just one thing? Yes.
Both Mary and Paul know something quite extraordinary; life changing and earth shaking, actually. Of Mary, Jesus makes the remarkable claim that she had discovered the, “one thing that is needed.” Martha can’t see it. She is distracted by things she considers to be so extremely important. They upset her and worry her, causing her to become frantic and irritated. Was Mary just being irresponsible?
Paul, on the other hand, seems to have lost touch with reality. Having built a great career with significant accomplishments, Paul equates everything he has done to a pile of cow dung. All because of this one thing that he tells us he is found. Has Paul gone mad?
It’s likely all of us have some sympathy for Martha, having been left all to herself to prepare the meal for Jesus and his entourage. Mary leaves her to it to sit at Jesus’s feet and listen to him. Is this really a commendable choice? After all, if we all chose to be Mary, nothing would get done! And what of Paul? Is it right to treat with such disdain a lifetime of hard work, education, responsible labor, achievements, accomplishments and productivity? Isn’t that unnecessarily extreme?
The reason for such a radical teaching as we find with both Mary and Paul reflects the power of the temptation in our lives to compromise when it comes to this “one thing that is needed.” Everything in our life, everything flows from this one thing, this first thing, this all-important and all-encompassing thing. Knowing Jesus Christ as our Lord will be, in the end, all that really matters of our life. Everything else we think, say and do will reflect the level of our “knowing.” Therefore it must have our first, primary and unequivocal allegiance. Jesus tells us that if we will seek him, and the kingdom of God above all else, all the other things that would otherwise distract us will be taken care of. Do you believe that?
In an African-American church I visited they had a saying that was framed in their main entryway. It read, “The Main Thing Is to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing.” Is the main thing in your life an unquenchable thirst and an unbridled drive to know Jesus Christ intimately and personally? That is the one thing that is needed. If we miss this, we miss everything else in the life God created us to live. If this is our priority, and we seek it with our whole heart, that we can trust in his promise that everything else will be taken care of by his loving hand.
I would encourage you to record this saying some place where you can see it on a daily basis, “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” This simple reminder can keep your eyes focused on Christ, your heart attuned to listening for his voice, and your hands employed in the work he called you to do for his glory.
Gracious Lord, I confess that you are not always the main thing in my life. So often I feel like Martha, running around with my hectic schedule, my frenetic pace trying to get so much done and wondering if it all really matters. And here you are, telling me that what is most important are the quiet times that I sit your feet and listen to you. You remind me through Paul that everything else I try to do to gain recognition in this life pales in comparison to the time that I spend knowing you more deeply and intimately. Give me a heart that desires this intimacy. Give me courage to set aside distractions that worry and upset me. Help me to make the main thing the main thing in my life; knowing you and living daily in sweet communion with you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.