When we stop to remember that God exists — that he created all that is from nothing; that he sustains everything we know, moment by moment, with just a word from his mouth; that he governs every government on earth; that he entered into his creation, taking on flesh, enduring weakness and temptation, suffering hostility to the point of death, even death on a cross, all to shower us with mercy, cleanse us of our sin, and secure our eternity with him in paradise — it is stunning, isn’t it, that we ignore and neglect him like we do.
Isn’t it amazing that God simply was before time began, and yet we sometimes struggle to find even ten minutes for him? Isn’t it perplexing, bordering on insanity, that we sometimes prefer distracting ourselves with our phones over taking advantage of our breathtaking access to his throne of grace in Christ? Isn’t it kind of unexplainable how we often live as if we do not have time to sit and enjoy God?
It is stunning, amazing, and perplexing, and yet so painfully familiar. Everyone who has followed Jesus knows what it is like to be distracted from following Jesus. That means we all, every one of us, can sympathize with anxious Martha.
Distracted by Fear
When Martha saw that Jesus had come to town, she welcomed him into the home where she and her sister lived (Luke 10:38). When Mary saw Jesus, she immediately sat down at his feet, and hung on his every word (Luke 10:39). “But Martha,” Luke tells us, “was distracted with much serving” (Luke 10:40).
To her credit, she was not distracted with little serving, but with much serving. And it’s hard for some of us to be too hard on her. She was hosting the Messiah — Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace — and she alone was preparing the food. Mary realized who Jesus was, and sat down to listen. Martha realized who Jesus was, and ran to do all she could for him.
The serving itself was not the problem — or at least not the main problem — especially given the social expectations for hospitality in her day. What, then, was the problem? Anxiety was consuming Martha. When she complained to Jesus that Mary was not helping her, he responded, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things” (Luke 10:41). Her grumbling had opened wide a window into her heart. Love was not inspiring her to serve; anxiety was. Her turmoil was driven by misplaced fear. How often is this true of us?
And not just a fear, but many fears. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things.” This wasn’t just about hospitality. Martha was distracted from Jesus because her mind was drowning in the cares of this world. And because she would not stop and listen to Jesus, she was forfeiting the calm she so desperately needed.
One Necessary Thing
Jesus knows how to still the raging waves of anxiety. Notice that he says her name not once, but twice: “Martha, Martha . . .” You can almost hear him slowing down the second time. He uses his voice, like a brake, to slowly quiet the turbulence in her heart. He knows how distracted she is, how wildly her mind is racing from one worry to another, and so he begins by helping her focus: “Martha, Martha . . .”
“You are anxious and troubled about many things,” he goes on to say, “but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41–42). In just two short sentences, he confronts her sinful anxiety — our sinful anxiety — with necessity, then felicity, and lastly security.
“You are troubled about many things,” he says, “but one thing is necessary.” In other words, everything that feels so pressing, so critical, so overwhelming is ultimately unnecessary next to hearing and knowing Jesus. Her fears screamed the opposite: What will we serve him? What will he think about the food? How will this compare with other places he’s visited? Did the neighbors notice Jesus came to our house? Why isn’t Mary helping me? We don’t know what precise anxieties were harassing Martha, but we know they were many — and that each concern insisted it was essential and urgent. Only one thing, however, was truly necessary.
“Satan will try to make everything feel more urgent than sitting down to be with Jesus.”
Hundreds of years before Martha was born, King David had already learned this lesson: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4). He said this while evildoers assailed him (verse 2), and armies encamped against him (verse 3), and lies and threats fell like arrows all around him (verse 12). In other words, he had every reason to fear, and yet even then, he knew the one thing he must do: seek the Lord.
Satan will try to make everything feel more urgent than sitting down to be with Jesus. But in the end, only one thing is truly necessary. And it’s not the hard conversation you’re dreading, or the pile of deadlines at work, or some distant drama on social media, or the exam you need to pass next week, or the debt you’re afraid you’ll never pay off. One thing is necessary — today, tomorrow, next Tuesday, and every day after — to know, obey, and enjoy Jesus.
The necessity of this one pursuit, however, does not make it an unhappy pursuit. “One thing is necessary,” Jesus says. “Mary has chosen the good portion.” While it might seem like Mary had abandoned her responsibilities and left her sister out to dry, she actually had chosen wisely and lovingly.
For choosing the one necessary thing, Mary received the good portion. Necessary was no sacrifice for her; it was all gain. She was drinking from a well that would never run dry, feasting from an overflowing table, swimming in an ocean of hope and peace and joy. Because his presence was her portion, her portion was not just right, but good. Her sitting and listening said what the apostle Paul would one day say in Philippians 3:8: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
“One thing is necessary — today, tomorrow, next Tuesday, and every day after — to know, obey, and enjoy Jesus.”
Martha, meanwhile, was drinking from another well that day — one that left her even more thirsty. While the fountain of living water sat in her living room, she feverishly carved out cisterns for herself, “broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13). That’s how the fear of man oppresses us: it begs and pleads for our attention, but is never satisfied. Fear breeds fear breeds fear. But the good fountain — the good portion — breeds peace and contentment, quenches our thirsts, satisfies our longings, and gives our souls rest. Necessity, for Mary and for us, is also felicity.
Lastly, this necessary and happy pursuit is also profoundly safe. “Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Not only has Mary chosen wisely, sitting at his feet to receive his words, but she has chosen happiness. And not just any happiness, but a full and abundant happiness that no person or circumstance could ever take from her. Is there any better word to a heart distracted by worry? The good I will give you, you will never, ever lose.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35, 37–39)
Have the cares of this world distracted you from sitting at the feet of Jesus? Have your fears left you feeling restless, insecure, unstable? The God of the universe is still speaking, right now, in his word. Hear his voice calling your name today, bidding you to come and enjoy the one necessary thing, the one satisfying thing, the one safe thing. You have time to sit with God.