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ONLY ONE THING IS NEEDED

Luke 10:38-10:42
Key Verse: 10:42

Thank God for teaching us that loving God with one’s whole heart and soul and strength and mind, and loving one's neighbour as oneself is the way of life, and, through the story of the Good Samaritan, specifically instructing us who is my neighbour and how to love my neighbour. May God help us to put it into practice. In today’s passage, Jesus at the home of Martha and Mary, is uniquely written in Luke’s gospel. We don’t know when this event took place in Jesus’ ministry, but Luke put it here after the parable of the Good Samaritan in the orderly account of his gospel. This passage makes us think about what is really one thing that is needed amid the many things to be concerned about and many tasks to do. It teaches us the supreme priority of listing to Jesus and that no work, no matter how good, can precede it.

First, Martha and Mary (38-40). Look at verse 38. “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.” In the gospel story Jesus came to the homes of several people: the home of Simon (4:38) where Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law, the house of Levi when Levi held a great banquet out of joy for Jesus’ coming into his heart and life (5:29), the house of Simon a Pharisee where a woman suddenly appeared and poured her perfume on Jesus (7:37-38), the house of Jairus, where Jesus healed Jairus’ dead daughter (8:51-52), here the home of Martha and Mary (10:38), the house of a prominent Pharisee where he healed a man suffering from dropsy (14:1-2) and the house of Zacchaeus after Zacchaeus’ meeting Jesus at a sycamore-fig tree (19:1-6). Yet Jesus’ coming to the home of Martha and Mary was notable in that he came purposely for Bible study.

This village, by referring to John 11:1, we know was Bethany. Luke too was acquainted with this place (see 19:29; 24:50), though, for some reason, he does not here specifically name it. Bethany was situated east of Jerusalem, and located on the eastern slope of the Mt. Olives. The distance between Jerusalem and Bethany is 3 km, slightly less than 2 miles. The home at this village consisted of two sisters, Martha and Mary, and their brother, Lazarus (Jn 11:1-2). They seemed to have lost their parents. According to the gospel description, Jesus visited this home at least three times (Jn 12:1-2). To this parentless family Jesus must have been like a father. This family seemed to be very special to Jesus.

Then what is written about this home at this time? Look at verse 39. “She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.” It is interesting that Jesus did not have formal GBS, but informal selective personal Bible study according to one’s desire. Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and was enjoying the personal 1:1 Bible Study with Jesus. What a beautiful and amazing description it is that “Mary sat at the Lord’s feet listing to what he said”! Who is the Lord? This Lord is the creator of heaven and earth and once calmed the storm at the sea by his command. His disciples who were present at that time were amazed and said, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him” (Lk 8:23b-25). This Lord raised a dead young man who was carried at the coffin with his word of command. People in the funeral procession were filled with awe and said, “God has come to help his people” (Lk 7:14-17). This Lord allowed Mary to sit at his feet and Mary took this time of amazing blessing and was listening to what he said. This can be one of the most beautiful scenes that can be seen in this world. Mary was the lover and listener of God’s word, and also certainly its meditator. We are reminded of a confession of a Psalmist, “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long…How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth” (Ps 119:97,103).

Luke describes about Martha in the next verse. Look at verse 40. “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!’” In verse 38 Martha was described as the one who opened her home to Jesus. We all know that opening one’s home to others is not easy at all. It requires a lot of work including cleaning. Anyway, Martha opened her home to Jesus and his disciples as a good hostess. In verse 40 we sense that Martha was hardworking and sacrificial, and full of serving spirit (Jn 12:2). In Genesis Rebekah was hard-working enough to willingly draw water for ten camels of Abraham’ servant when he asked her to give him a little water (24:19). And in Romans 16, in the list of those to whom Paul sent his personal greetings, he used the words “hard working” only to describe women, four women: “Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you” in verse 6 and “Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord” in verse 12. To be hardworking is commendable and good for both men and women. Especially, hardworking can be a beauty of women. It is almost certain that Martha had such a beauty. Martha also wanted to prepare all things thoroughly, and so could be said of being a woman of thorough preparation, which might be her another virtue. And serving and sacrificial spirit is important in a family and a community. We cannot deny that Martha had such spirit. But the problem was that she was distracted and soon reached her limitation and were full of complaints. She became self-righteous and complained that the Lord did not care her situation. In her self-righteousness and exasperation she indirectly reprimanded her sister and even the Lord. Finally she commanded the Lord, “Tell her to help me.” We see that when hardworking and service lose right attitude and purpose, it causes big trouble.

Once King Saul was sent on a mission to destroy the wicked people, the Amalekites and everything that belonged to them, for God wanted to punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. It required hard work. Saul did so, but in his own way. He spared Agag king of the Amalekites and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good, excusing to sacrifice them to the LORD. Then the word of God came to him through Samuel, “Does the LORD delight in bunt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifices, and to heed is better than the fat of rams” (1 Sa 15:22). David was a man after God’s own heart. He inquired of the LORD about a battle, saying, “Shall I go and attack…? Will you hand them over to me?” (2 Sa 19). As for him obedience to God was more important than hard work of fighting itself. We remember Apostle Paul, who said, “I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1 Cor 15:10). As for Paul, his hard work did not make him proud but rather humble and thankful to God.

Second, only one thing is needed (41-42). How did Jesus help Martha? Look at verse 41. “‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things.” First, doubly calling her name, the Lord clearly disapproved what Martha suggested. Yet this was also the expression of his affection and grave concern for her. In Genesis 22 the angel of the LORD called out from heaven, ‘Abraham! Abraham!’ when Abraham about to slay his son as a sacrifice to God in obedience to God’s command (Ge 22:10-11). Also, in Exodus 3 God called to Moses from within the bush in the desert, “Moses! Moses!” to send him as a deliverer of his people in Egypt (Ex 3:4). And in Luke 22 Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Lk 22:31-32). The Lord is the Lord of affection and care. The Lord truly cares in his affection.

The Lord Jesus continued, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.” In the previous section Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. Now according to Jesus she was worried and upset. Being upset before the Lord is a terrible thing. She was not upset suddenly. There was a development: distracted, worried and upset. Her worry was out of her care. Some people don’t care and so do not worry. That’s not good. Her worry was out of her care, yet her care was not combined with faith and trust in the Lord. So her inner worry burst out into outer anger. Martha was worried in the course of being concerned about many things. Worry shows one’s heart state is wrong before God. It is an obvious sin before God, like fear. It is out of unbelief and distrust. Worry is harmful to our souls whatever the reason. Some say, “How can we live without worry?” They fatalistically accept worry as a part of life. But we should not make light of the worry problem, but resolve any worry problem before God. Some people worry beforehand or ahead about things that are not even likely happen. Jesus said in Matthew 6:34, “…do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” The meaning of it can be this: tomorrow is in God’ hand. Things may happen or may not happen according to God’s will. Tomorrow is God’s business, not yours. And “do not worry about tomorrow” does not mean that we can worry about today. Today we need to accept the given situation and live by faith. And Apostle Paul said in Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious (do not worry in MSG and NRSV) about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” And Apostle Peter said in 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

The Lord Jesus said to Martha, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.” Only one thing is needed; only one thing is necessary (in NASB). We often hear that those who concentrate on one thing in life are successful. It is really amazing that the Coca-Cola Company has one only one product, but the company has spread to the whole world. Some say that in the veins of the CEO of the Coca-Cola Company, Coca-Cola is flowing. It is true that life should be focused and concentrated. It will be good if we can focus on doing one important thing at each time, although it may bring misunderstanding from people for a time being.

Then what is the one thing, the only one thing that is needed and necessary? Look at verse 42. “but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.” Here Jesus said, “Mary has chosen…” In Luke’s gospel the word “chosen” or “chose” is written meaningfully. For example, in 6:13, “when morning came, he (Jesus) called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles”, and in 9:35, “A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” Jesus is God’s Chosen One (23:359. Jesus chose his twelve disciples. This choice belongs God, who is sovereign. We cannot do anything with God’s choice. God uses the power of his choosing for his grand redemptive history and purpose to save mankind. We cannot understand fully how God chooses. But we can trust him and be thankful for his choice, because he is good and what he does also is absolutely good. Yet, in the category of God’s choice, we can exercise our choice, since God gave us the precious gift of freedom of choice (Ge 2:16,17). God wants us to do so. When one knows how to use his or her freedom of choice, it will affect the person’s life greatly.

In this passage we don’t know whether Martha used the power of her choice, or she acted according to the situation demanded her. Since Jesus and his disciples came to her home, most probably she thought that she had no choice but had to serve them with full service, making all the preparations as much as she could. But Mary thought differently. Still, she thought that she could use the privilege of her choice. She did not react according to the situation directed. Rather she chose what is better at the given situation. That was to listen to Jesus, although her choice would cause people’s misunderstanding, even condemnation that she was selfish in doing so. Probably she thought that she could listen to Jesus first and serve him later with just a simple meal. Anyway, certainly she believed that her choice of listening to Jesus would please him. In fact her choice was Jesus the Lord and it turned out excellent and praiseworthy.

Jesus said, “It will not be taken from her.” God respects our choice, especially good choice, and protects it. According to our good choice, he can work. Especially, when we choose to listen to him or decide to have priority on listening to the word of God, he can work out all things, and in this way we can keep the tremendous blessing of hearing his words. In God’s protection no one or nothing can take away this blessing from us.

There seem to be many good things in our lives, and many works to be done. However, our life needs priority, and we should learn to choose what is better, and even more what is best. Jesus said, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt 6:33; Lk 12:31). Thank God for helping Paulina to have studied at and graduate from U of T, holding onto this promise of God. May God help her to keep this word of God’s promise throughout her life. In the early Christian church problems began to arise in the community, particularly in the matter of food distribution. At that time the apostles made a right choice and decided, saying, “…It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables…We…will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Ac 4:2,4). God blessed their choice and decision abundantly and the church continued to grow powerfully. In the Old Testament when Joshua took the leadership after Moses, the task he had to do was tremendous. The Israelites had to cross the Jordan and to fight many strong enemies in the promised land. God gave him one clear direction: “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8). When Joshua kept this priority on meditating on God’s word and obeying it, God gave him one victory after another, until the Israelites conquered the whole promised land. When Solomon was enthroned as king over Israel and the time drew near for David to die, he gave this charge to Solomon, “Be strong, show yourself a man, and observe what the LORD your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go” (1 Kings 2:2-3). When Jesus had the last meal with his disciples in an upper room, he said to them, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you…If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit,” and then he said continually, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” As Jesus had to leave his disciples in this world, he wanted them to remain in him by letting his words remain in them so that they might be fruitful to the glory of God (Jn 15:4-8). We remember Ezra. When he came to Israel his home land from Babylonia, many things had to be done to help his fellow Israelites and reform the nation. But he made one decision. Ezra 7:10 says, “For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.” Then God could use him so preciously for the reformation of the nation.

In this study we pray that God may help each of us to choose to listen to Jesus with first priority at any circumstances and see the amazing blessings of the choice in our lives.

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