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)
Martha was doing a good thing—she was serving Jesus. She wanted him and her guests to enjoy themselves. She wanted to bless them. She wanted them to enjoy their challah and gefilte fish. There were bagels and lox and matzah ball soup and dishes of knish to bring the guests.
She was distracted by “much serving.” Martha was serving her guts out. But she was distracted. She was unable to focus or concentrate on Jesus’ words. She was probably catching some, but unable to think about what he was saying or reflect on it. “I heard him saying something about a lost sheep,” she said. “But who has time for stories? I got blintzes in the frying pan.”
Martha may have been joyful initially, but now she’s getting annoyed at her sister. Now she is serving, but not with gladness.
Jesus said Martha’s problem was deeper than mere distraction about getting the meal on the table—she was “anxious and troubled about many things.” The cares of this life regularly choked out Mary’s joy and God’s word in her life.
In Martha’s eyes, Mary was lazy or unproductive or selfish. She wasn’t getting anything done. Jesus said “one thing is necessary.” It is “the good portion.” What is that? Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.” She was focused on Jesus and his word. She was undistracted in her devotion to Jesus. She was simply putting Jesus first. Her relationship with Jesus, getting to know him, and meditating on his teaching was her priority.
We too can be distracted, anxious, and troubled about many things. I talked to a friend recently whose stress on the job feels like a tsunami breaking over him. A friend’s husband has early onset dementia. I know a number of families who live paycheck to paycheck. Most of us know someone who struggles with the fury of depression or who has a sick child.
These are major temptations to anxiety and fear. Serious distractions. Now add to all this the additional distractions and stressers of the Christmas season—presents to buy and wrap, getting a tree, decorating, family gatherings, travel, then there’s the gift wrap outreach and the food collection and the Christmas Eve outreach with the live camels. Ok, most of us don’t have to worry about live camels, but you get what I mean. And if Aunt Mary and Aunt Jean come to our Christmas meal, it’s going to be tense, and who knows if Joe is even going to come… you get the idea.
Only one thing is necessary.
To sit at Jesus’ feet. To listen to his word. To rest in him.
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3)
This may be hard to do, but we must seek to stay our minds on Jesus and trust in him. Don’t neglect to take time in God’s word and to pray this Christmas season. Put that first. Make that top priority. A little time every day in God’s word. Carve out a time to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to his voice. There’s no better antidote for Christmas stress.
Mark Altrogge has been senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, Pennsylvania, since 1982. He has written hundreds of songs for worship, including “I Stand in Awe” and “I’m Forever Grateful.” Mark and his wife, Kristi, have four sons and one daughter. Find out more on his blog, The Blazing Center.