“But Martha was distracted with much serving.” Luke 10:40
Martha makes an easy target in this story of the two sisters from Bethany. We esteem Mary for choosing the better way and making the right choice. Every time I read the account of the sisters in Luke 10:38-42 (go ahead and flip there to read it—it is a quick trip that is very much worth it), I feel like I can hear Martha’s tone of voice. I imagine her doing her work in the kitchen, preparing to feed her guests. With each plate she yanked from the cupboard and each pot she slammed on the stove, I expect the noises coming from the kitchen were increasing in volume. I bet she was sighing loudly with exaggerated facial expressions. I can hear her mumbling under her breath until finally she couldn’t take it.
She ran to Jesus—Jesus, the Messiah—and demanded He tell her sister to help her, after questioning if He even cared that she had been left all by her lonesome to do the work. In my mind, I have kind of dubbed her the tattletale. And from where I sit, it is easy to judge her for her choice. I mean, hello! Jesus, the Son of God, is chilling in your living room and you’re too busy to enjoy His presence? In their culture where women were devalued, ignored, and overlooked, the King of Kings tore down all the social norms and welcomed women under His tutelage. And yet here is our Martha running around, frantically trying to ensure all the work was done. While the best choice was the exact opposite of busyness. The better choice was to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn from Him. No time devoted to enjoying His presence will ever go to waste or be for naught.
In the town of Bethany in Jesus’ days, there was no social media. Netflix wasn’t an option. Facebook didn’t steal hours on end of mindless scrolling. Martha wasn’t staging her kitchen to feature as her latest Instagram post. Mary wasn’t taking selfies with Jesus to post on her Snapchat stories. The sisters didn’t have to set the schedule for the church nursery, divide the children’s curriculum, plan the worship set, or fix dinner for the family down the street who just had a baby. But they were presented with the opportunity to spend time in the presence of Jesus, just like you and just like me. Martha was described as being distracted by much serving. Another version says it this way: “But Martha was distracted by her many tasks” (HCSB). Many tasks. I could make a list right now of the many tasks I need to complete. I bet you can too. The longer the list, the more frustrating it can feel. And the more overwhelming it can become.
I have spent a lot of time lately reading and re-reading this story of Mary and Martha. I kept coming back to this idea of distractions. I looked up synonyms for distractions and found them to be both positive and negative. Some of the ones with a negative connotation were interruptions, disruptions, commotions, disturbances, and interferences. Some of the ones that were positive in nature were entertainments, hobbies, pastimes, and amusements. Martha was distracted by much serving and many tasks. These things weren’t necessarily bad things–but they were interferences, disturbances, and disruptions. And what was it she was distracted from? Martha was distracted by her good works, by her serving, by her many tasks from hanging out with Jesus. She missed the point. Jesus told her in all love and gentleness, “Martha, Martha (can’t you hear the tenderness in His tone?), you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).
Intimacy with Jesus cannot be taken from us either. Any time we spend sitting at the feet of Jesus, soaking up His presence, being saturated in His word, will result in something that cannot be taken away from us. In this world of temporary, materialistic things, time with Jesus and drawing near to Him will have eternal significance. We are distracted by so many things in our culture. Minutes and hours are lost to distractions and all for what?
What is distracting me today from the good portion, the better choice of spending time with Jesus? Once we taste and see that the Lord is good, then nothing else will satisfy. Our distractions often spill over and affect those around us, just like Martha’s growing irritation with Mary. Are we too distracted by our serving, by our to-do lists, by our Facebook feed, by Snapchat, by phone calls, by texts, by our amusements, by our hobbies, by our entertainments that we miss the blessing of engaging with the person physically standing right in front of us? I have caught myself distracted too many times lately. I don’t want to be distracted anymore by the lesser things, by the things that won’t matter in a week, a month, or next year.
Gretchen Saffles said it this way in her book The Well-Watered Woman:“Jesus modeled for us the ministry of eye contact and presence…When Jesus taught people and spent time with them, he looked at them and gave them his full presence and attention. He wasn’t distracted with ‘more important’ things.” Jesus was fully engaged in the present moment.
Jesus is always always always our example to follow, no matter what. Today, let’s commit to examining our lives and our hearts to see where we have been distracted by the good instead of giving Jesus and others our best. If we have found ourselves distracted by many things, we don’t have to keep living distracted. God’s mercies and faithfulness to us are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22). Jesus desires for us to seek Him and to spend time with Him. He delights in us delighting in Him. And once we have our souls satisfied in Him, then we can choose to imitate Jesus and offer others the gift of eye contact and presence. In a culture that thrives on activity, busyness, and productivity, let’s take a step back and choose to not be distracted by lesser things. Let’s be different. Let’s be like Jesus!