Focus on Christ
a sermon based on Luke 10:38-42
by Rev. Frank Schaefer
Reading the story of Martha and Mary makes you
wonder what is going on. Martha, after all, has invited Jesus into her home. So,
isnt it common curtsey to provide a guest with food and care? Yes it is. In fact,
Martha has a very good point when she complains about Mary not helping her out. After all,
Martha is serving Jesus. What more can you do? She is serving the Lord himself. And yet,
Jesus commends Mary over Martha, for just sitting at his feet.
On first reading, the story doesnt make a whole lot of sense; so we need to dig a
little bit deeper to see what's going on here.
Let's see: Jesus is saying "there is need of only one thing." What thing?
What is that one thing Mary had or was doing that Martha didn't?
O.k. so Martha was doing her thing in the kitchen and the dining room, what was Mary
doing? She sat at the table with Jesus and the disciples; eating, drinking; enjoying the
fellowship, listening to Jesus; perhaps asking him questions.
If that's the "one thing that is needed" then that's not very difficult to do
is it? To be honest with you, I would much rather be in the dining room with Jesus and the
disciples than in the kitchen and serving people. Does that mean that I am already on a
higher spiritual plane? I don't know.
Some scholars suggested that here in the story of Martha and Mary we have a display of
two different kinds of spiritual paths--service and devotion. Like Martha, some people
feel most fulfilled spiritually if they can do things for God and for others. On the other
hand, like Mary, some people feel most fulfilled spiritually if they can study the bible
or spend time in prayer--do devotions.
So these scholars would say the moral of the story is: Spiritual devotional times are
more important than Christian service. I'm not sure whether this is what Jesus was saying.
Especially not since the Bible is so adamant that words and works need to go together. In
Matthew 25, for instance, Jesus says: "Well done, good and faithful servant; what you
have done to the least of these, you have done to me. "
I believe that devotional time is very important, but it can hardly be argued that
Jesus meant to put it in contrast to service and then say: devotion is more important. So,
we're still looking for that "one thing that is needed" that Mary had and Martha
Other scholars suggested that perhaps there is a women's liberation message here. For
in first century Judea, women were not supposed to sit in the company of rabbies and their
disciples. When I say sit, I actually mean recline on the ground in front of a table that
was this high. On top of that, women were not supposed to talk theology, that was a man's
thing. Women were to be concerned with matters of hospitality.
So, according to these scholars, the "one thing that is needed" that Jesus
referred to is the empowerment of the woman, or the empowerment of any and all
marginalized people groups. Jesus is lifting up and empowering Martha who represents all
those, society is putting down for one reason or another.
While I do think that it is remarkable that Jesus did empower Martha to do
"theology" against all social etiquette, and while I do agree that it is
important to overcome all and every discrimination in the name of Christ, I think it could
hardly be claimd that this is the "one thing that is needed."
Here is what I think. First, Jesus is not saying that Martha is doing anything wrong by
serving him. What he points to is Martha's state of mind. He says to Martha: "you are
worried and upset about many things." And in this context he says: but only one thing
is needed." What are the many things? Luke calls them "distractions" in
Vers 40: "But Martha was distracted by all the preparations."
So what is the one thing? It stands in contrast to the many things, the many
distractions. The one thing, then, is the focus on Christ, no matter what we do, whether
we serve, whether we worship, or whether we pray.
It seems to me that we can get so distracted from the real reason we're doing service.
Martha wanted to be the perfect hostess; she wanted to shine with her cooking, table
setting and hospitality skills. She was worried about getting everything just right!
Like Martha, we too often serve for the wrong reasons. We are often distracted from the
one thing--to focus on Christ. We too, sometimes get all preoccupied with doing things a
certain way, or the right way; we worry about not offending anybody, we may even do
service for our own recognition sometimes. But the "one thing that is needed"
according to Jesus is that we do service for him. It doesn't matter what others think of
us, it doesn't even matter if others see us serve--the only thing that matters is that we
focus on Jesus as we serve. Do it for Him, because we love him, because we want to return
a portion of the blessing he has given us.
It's the same with worshiping Jesus in our devotional time. How many times have I
mindlessly prayed without really talking to God; How many times have I gone routinely down
a prayer list without so much as even trying to listen to God's voice.
The same is true for our worship services. How many times do we act like things have to
be a certain way in the service to make us happy, to be meaningful to us. I think we may
have got that all backwards, because there is only one thing that is needed and that is
that we focus on God; that Christ is glorified in our worship to him. The question we
should always ask is: "is it pleasing to God?" Amen.