This picture has been placed in many a Christian kitchen and dining room. It has captivated my mind more than once. The reason I believe it fits in here is the simplicity of what is, and isn’t, in the picture. The man needs two kinds of bread. One is more needful than the other. Left with no other distractions he is clear minded and heart focused to give thanks for both.
In the well known story of Jesus’ visit with his Bethany friends Mary and Martha, we learn that simple truth: “Only one thing is needed.” At the feet of Jesus, “Mary had chosen better.” Tending to things Martha was tending to was not sinful. The problem she had was that she allowed her many things to distract her from the one thing needful. There is certainly time for the tending to earthly things. There is a time and place for everything. But when the Word of Christ is being offered, that is not the time to let this work distract us. It was not that she had selected to do something wrong. She had elected to do it when Christ was offering His Word of Truth.
Where does that concept play out in your life? Let’s first talk about the very obvious: Church.
Times of services abound: Thursday evening; two on Sunday; and recently a monthly Wednesday morning time for Word, worship, prayer and sacrament. Times to formally hear and study that word with fellow believers and pastors abound: Sunday morning, Tuesday morning, Wednesday morning and an ongoing invitation for Bible Information Classes, especially in the Fall and Spring. With the addition of our new pastor and the continuation of our Senior Vicar program, the wealth of opportunities to sit at the feet of Christ and his Word will likely be everywhere. We know where and when those opportunities exist.
What does our flesh do? What does our enemy the devil say? That’s when I get to do things I don’t have time to do when I am at work. That’s my day to rest and be with my family. That’s precious time the spouse and I don’t otherwise have. That’s when I have to catch up the house and the yard. Ironically, like Martha, the things we are tempted to do in place of Worship and Bible Study don’t seem so evil. They are god-pleasing, needful activities for people who live in this world. But why is it so easy for the devil and my sinful self to choose to do them THEN; when the Church is offering Worship, Word and Christ Jesus.
Let us also talk briefly about our personal priorities. Our church body has been blessed with decades of wonderful material for the Christian home. Devotion’s books for families, devotions books for small children, devotions books for men, devotions books for women; devotion books for every stage of marriage. Periodicals, on-line bible studies and daily devotions, Bible translations in modern English and in every conceivable language our church body meets; commentaries written for lay people to ready (again, at the coffee table or on the tablets we hold in our hands.) The Lord has flooded us with tools that place us at the feet of Jesus, more than any other day! If that were not enough he has made it possible to never miss our favorite TV show (DVR allows us to let TV wait).
What does the devil and our sinful nature do and say? There is no time. Would you not rather watch your show right now? Isn’t it more efficient to quickly check and reply to some more work emails? Isn’t it at least a sensed responsibility to rifle through social media just a bit longer? Why is it that a cross word puzzle keeps me captivated, but my eyes grow weary the minute I open my spiritual growth materials!?
Reality is this: your sinful nature knows that Word of God and the Sacraments put that nature to death. It does not want to die. It wants to be fed. The Devil knows that the Words of Christ send him running away on his heels. The reality is that the more we choke out spiritual growth, the seemingly not so sinful things will soon be replaced with sinful desires and actions of a stronger sinful flesh. We have all experienced it. We have seen it in ourselves. We have observed it in people close to us. A weaker connection to the Word leads us to a stronger connection with the way the world thinks and acts.
“Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” The man in the painting has no other distractions. He is focused on the needed Bread of Life: Christ Jesus and his Word. In the meantime he can see clearly to be thankful for the providence of earthly bread. The Words of Jesus bring us to a clearer understanding of our role in the physical life. Mary chose what is better.
At the feet of Jesus Mary drank in the words of Life. The great news is that we can be sure that both Martha and Mary learned that lesson. They both grew in their understanding of Christ and his Word. We see that in their clear testimony of his purpose at the death of their brother, Lazarus. We are not told of Martha’s reaction. We are not told that she dropped everything to join Mary at the feet of Jesus. The rest of their story tells us that she did take time for the one thing needed: Jesus and his Words. At the wake for her brother she confessed “I know that my brother will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.” She confessed “You are the Christ who was to come.” She knew and believed that Jesus was “The Resurrection and the Life.” (John 11: 24-26). She learned that from the Words of Jesus.
In the Words of Jesus you have life. In the Words of Jesus you have peace from all the distractions that get you worried and upset. In the Words of Jesus you see his nailed pierced hands forgiving you for all of the times you set your hands to sinful priorities. In the Words of Jesus you have his proclamation of unconditional grace and a love that is inseparable from you. In the Words of Jesus you have the quieting notions that lead you to see what is needed most. In the Words of Jesus you hear that all these other things will be added to you who have sought first his kingdom and his righteousness. (Matthew 6:33).
“Mary has chosen better and it will not be taken away from her.” Jesus said about the last days: “Heaven and earth will pass away but his words will never pass away” (Matthew 24: 35). Paul wrote about facing sufferings for Christ: “Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8: 39). The LORD of Israel commanded his people “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every Word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3).
Speak of Savior I am listening,
As a servant to his lord.
Let me show respect and honor
To your holy, precious Word,
That each day, my whole life through,
I may serve and follow you.
Let your Word e’er be my pleasure
And my heart’s most precious treasure. (CW 283: 1)