Maybe you’ve seen the movie, “City Slickers,” starring Billy Crystal and Jack Palance.
It’s a movie that deals with a trio of friends who are experiencing mid-life crises. They decide that the answer to their problems is to go away together and take part in a trail ride — they want to experience life as an authentic cowboy.
And the old Cowboy who guides them — Curly — is a gruffy, weathered character who goads them all along on this journey. At one point in the movie, Curly (Palance), has a one-on-one conversation with Billy Crystal’s character.
Now, this talk is peppered with the language of a seasoned cowboy, but Curly has a story to share. He says that the secret of life is “one thing.” Curly explains is as finding that one thing and realizing that everything else just fails to measure up.
Or something that’s close to that in meaning.
I don’t know a lot about Curly or where he got his views, but he might have been reading in Luke 10:38-42. Here are those verses:
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. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 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!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
In the words of Jesus, “one things matters.” So, what’s that one thing?
This report from Luke begins in the way that many of the Jesus passages begin. Jesus is on his way — he’s on the move with his disciples. And he comes to a village that clues from other Scripture passages will tell us is Bethany.
Bethany is the home of Martha who lives in a house with her sister, Mary. In other scripture passages, we know that Martha and Mary also have a brother. The brother’s name is …. Lazarus.
Earlier in the story, Jesus had sent out 70 followers to go ahead of him into villages. They were instructed to go into the homes that showed them hospitality. They were to give a blessing to those homes and eat food there until they moved on. So, Jesus is in Bethany doing the very same thing that he had told his followers to do when they went out on their own.
And Martha offers her home up as a place for Jesus to find hospitality. And, Jesus goes there.
And that’s where we are introduced to the third participant — Mary. Mary is described as sitting at the feet of the “Lord.” That’s a sign of respect, a mark of status. Lord isn’t necessarily a word that means “God” but sometimes we use it that way.
There’s some significance to this statement that she is sitting at the feet of Jesus. She could have literally been sitting on the ground at Jesus’ feet. Or maybe it goes even deeper than that.
When we say that a person sits at the feet of a teacher, we’re saying that they are listening and learning, they are respecting the teacher. In other words, Mary is doing the same things that disciples do. She is listening to and learning from Jesus.
And Martha is busy, busy, busy. Martha doesn’t have time for this sitting around. She’s got to get the meal together, set the table and get it ready. She’s got to clean the house and do the dishes. Martha has so much today because she invited Jesus into her home. She’s busy, busy, dreadfully busy.
It’s a tale of two sisters.
On one hand there’s Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus and learning as a disciple learns. And then there’s Martha who is described as distracted and she’s trying to do all of those things that need to be done when a guest is in the house.
Distracted is an interesting word that’s used in this description. In this context, it means that Martha’s focus is somehow turned from the things of God to the things of the world.
Now Martha isn’t really doing anything that’s unexpected in this situation. We invite a guest to our house and we do the things to prepare. You find out your parents are going to come by later in the day and you frantically clean up. Martha is just focusing on the things that make this a good event. But, this “distracted” Martha has enough of the situation and she goes to Jesus.
Notice that she doesn’t go to the person she has the issue with, she goes to the guest in the house.
And why? Why would she choose this route?
What Martha is seeking is validation. She wants Jesus to tip the scale, to side with her, to show her sister that she has the better way.
And Jesus, as God, never really seems to care much for our complaining and whining and excuses about why we can or can’t do certain things. He doesn’t respond to Martha’s concerns in fact, while he brushes them aside.
Martha, I know you have many concerns and worries, Jesus says, but there’s only one thing you need.
And here’s the kicker for Martha… you don’t get it, but your sister does. And she’s not going to be asked to give that up.
So who are we in this story?
Sometimes we read these Biblical accounts and there’s a temptation for us to put ourselves automatically into the role of the hero. In this case, we’d say the hero is Jesus.
Jesus understands how we are tempted and what we go through. Jesus understands that we fall short.
And Jesus understands that we need a relationship with our Holy Father if we truly want to live lives of eternal significance and importance.
Jesus is our pathway to that relationship with God. And just as did in this story, he’s in our village, he’s in our town and we have the opportunity to invite him in, to show him hospitality and to experience that relationship that comes through him.What about Martha?
Sometimes we give Martha a really bad rap for what is happening in this story. But Martha probably represents many more times than we care to admit. Martha represents all those times that we try to earn our way into God’s good graces.
It’s those times when we choose coming to something at church out of some sense of duty or obligation. She represents those times when we get hung up on rules and making the rules and the do’s and the don’ts try to fit places they don’t fit.
She represents every time we want to say, look at me and what I’m doing, “Can’t you see how busy I am for God?”
Martha represents when we get it wrong. And we do get it wrong a lot of times.
And let me say this, Martha probably has very good intentions with what she is doing. You invite a guest into your house and you take care of that guest. There’s no bad intention there. But even so, she’s missing out on what it means to know God, to experience Jesus.
Martha is just too busy going through the motions of doing churchy things to ever experience the living God.And so then, what about Mary?
Mary is for us our goal, our encounter, our role model of discipleship, if you will. Mary sits at the feet of the master, the Lord, and she listens. Sure, the dishes can be washed in a little while. Sure, the meal might be later than it would be otherwise, but Mary is taking the time to get to know Jesus on a personal level. She’s relationship building with the only one that matters.
And Jesus says that Mary knows the one way — the only way — and it will not be taken away from her.
What it really comes down to is a matter of priorities. Martha chooses the priorities of actions and chores and tasks. Mary chooses the priorities of being near and knowing Jesus.
What matters to you?
Is your religious life one of duty, obligations, chores, tasks, etc., because that’s what you have to do or you already know that someone else isn’t going to do them.
Or, do you have one thing that matters?
The world or Jesus?
Are you standing and doing the chores or are you sitting and getting to know Jesus?
As we talked about yesterday, we are all telling a story with our lives. Does our life reflect the one thing that matters?
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