Monday Meditation: Devotion vs. Doing

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney

“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed Jesus into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And Martha went up to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, 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 10:38-42)

This brief passage of Scripture speaks volumes about family dynamics. Did you notice how Martha, in her frustration, attempted to triangulate Jesus to resolve her conflict with her sister? I suspect that this was not the first time that Martha had been aggravated with her sister. I also suspect this was not the first time Mary that was oblivious to her sister’s exasperation.

Unfortunately, this passage has frequently been used to pit women against women – elevating those who worship over those who work, contrasting devotion with doing. Jesus certainly did not disapprove of serving others; he told his disciples that he came not to be served but to serve. Jesus and his disciples depended upon the willingness of others – particularly women – to serve them, feed them, shelter them, and support them financially. To follow Jesus meant – and still means – to embrace a life of service.

Jesus was not condemning serving when he responded to Martha’s request for intervention. So what did he mean when he declared that Mary had “chosen the good portion”? Neither sister was aware that Jesus’ days were numbered, but Jesus knew his time with his friends was limited. Mary seized the moment to sit in the presence of her Lord, to listen and to learn with intentionality. Is that the one necessary thing – to recognize in a given moment what is most important?

Every day we are called upon to make choices regarding where we will focus our attention. Situations that appear to require urgent attention often crowd out the interactions that are truly important. When we are anxious and troubled about many things, our ability to discern what is most important is impaired.

Perhaps sitting at Jesus’ feet is the antidote to our anxiety. In drawing near to Jesus, we gain perspective on what is truly important. Carving out time to be still, meditate, and pray can help us draw near to Jesus. But we can also pray as we serve, remembering that God is with us, within us. Throughout the day, we can seek the Spirit’s guidance to recognize the one thing that is necessary in a given moment. With God’s help, may we choose the good portion.

Published on August 3, 2020

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