What is the absolute, number one, most important thing of all? And is it the number one priority in my life?
Because how easy it is for us to get distracted with the things that are far from #1. Like Martha, how easy it is to be “cumbered about much serving” – that is, distracted – pulled away – from what is greatest of all.
We all go through life constantly finding ourselves running in circles, that is, becoming so busy that we forget our real purpose, why it is that we’re even here – doing so many things at once, spreading ourselves so thin, that we start to lose our way.
Must we not take a break from it all, at least long enough to ask ourselves the bigger, more important questions, about eternal life, and put aside the things of this life?
But what about our daily needs? Am I not required to work, to earn, to accomplish things, set goals, meet goals, succeed, or at least give it all I have trying to succeed? There’s the cost of living, living expenses, food expenses, education expenses, bills to pay, places to go, people to see. I have needs, after all.
But Jesus gets our attention by completely redefining the word “need”. For starters, we may think the basic necessities are food and drink, air, water, shelter, clothing. But Jesus comes along and says, actually, no. One thing, and one thing alone, is needful. But how can that be? How can He say that? One thing is essential – everything else isn’t? We all need food, drink, clothing. We also happen to need sleep. We need companionship. We need education. We need careers. We need money. Because without it, how can we purchase our basic needs of food and drink and clothing? But again, Jesus says, no – one thing is needful.
Well, if we don’t eat, we don’t live. But Jesus says, “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”
Jesus is talking about a higher form of life. Just because we’re eating, drinking, breathing, doesn’t necessarily mean we are living, that is, spiritually. Christ says, to really live, we must be born again, we must be given a brand new life, in Him.
So Jesus turns our attention away from the things of this life, and He turns our attention to spiritual life. He says, life is more than meat and drink. He says, “I am the bread of life. He that cometh to Me shall never hunger, he that believeth on Me shall never thirst.”
We can become so involved with this life – with the needs of this life – the needs of our body - that we lose sight of the much, much greater needs of our soul - our eternal soul. “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?”
One thing is needful. And what a difference it makes, when by God’s grace, we know what that one thing is, and by God’s grace, as Mary did, we choose that one thing above all else. That choosing of course is not by our own reason or strength, but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.
But what a difference it makes, when from the bottom of our hearts, we continue to seek that one thing needful, and we continue to find true peace and rest for our souls, as God’s Spirit works through the words of Christ, in our hearts. Having that one thing means everything.
Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hid in a field. When a man finds it, he sells everything he has, in order to go buy that one field. Again, it’s like a merchant or trader. When he finds one pearl of great price, he sells everything he has, and buys that one pearl.
Nothing in this life compares, to the one thing that our soul needs to survive. Jesus has it. He freely gives it. We freely receive it. Scripture says, “These things are written that ye may know ye have eternal life.”
How easy it is to get distracted. It’s not just sinful things that can distract us. It can be perfectly good things – things that are absolutely good, and not sinful in any way, in and of themselves. Martha was trying to serve her Lord and Savior. She was working for Him. What’s wrong with that? In and of itself, nothing.
But when Christ began to speak, both Mary and Martha were invited to stop working, to stop serving, and to be served - To be comforted in the forgiveness of sins – to receive inwardly reconciliation between God and man - to receive the assurance that Christ would go to the cross to make everything right between us and God.
If we are too busy to hear that, and to find comfort and strength in those words, then we are too busy.
Jesus isn’t saying, here’s another thing to add to your list of things to do to make your life even busier. No, He’s saying, only one thing can truly satisfy your heart and soul. Just come and receive. Believe, and you will find rest unto your soul.
If we look close at the details, we discover something that maybe we never had before. It wasn’t that Mary didn’t help at all. In fact, she was helping Martha to serve. Martha says, “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone?” Leaving Martha means that at one point, Mary was with Martha – that is, with her, and helping her.
But here’s what’s important. Mary knew when to stop. When Jesus started speaking the words of eternal life, by God’s grace she knew when to stop and to listen, and to receive bread from heaven - food for her eternal soul.
The “when” for us, is no less, than every single day. Every day He invites us to stop, to put everything away, our cell phones, our TVs, our careers – put everything on hold – and sit at Christ’s feet, and listen to the words of eternal life. “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand.”
What is the absolute, number one, most important thing of all? What is greater than finding comfort and strength in the Words of Christ, in our Baptism, in the Lord’s Supper? What is more important than being assured that in His heart of hearts, God is at peace with us, our sins are forgiven, because Christ went to the cross for us, died, rose again, and promises we too will rise?
Christ is the one thing needful. His word is the one thing needful. His Spirit, His grace, His mercy, His forgiveness, is the one thing needful. Christ says, “I am the way the truth the life, no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me.”
The point is simple. Not matter how much, or how little, we have worked in God’s Kingdom, we are still saved by God’s free grace alone.
Let us not become so involved with our own labors, that we forget that Christ labored hard for us on the cross to accomplish everything needful for us to be saved.
Mary knew when to stop working, and to choose that good part which would not be taken away from her. God’s grace is good, so good, so great, that there is absolutely nothing we can do to earn it. But it is also so good, so great, that there is no sin it does not cover. Whoever believes in Jesus, will not perish, but have everlasting life.
Knowing the one thing needful, having it in our hearts, we do have rest unto our souls. It is important that we labor hard in the world, and in God’s Kingdom, and Christ will continue to enable us to do just that (“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”) - but may God also continue to give us the wisdom, to know when to put everything aside, and simply listen to the words of eternal life, and receive rest unto our soul.He says, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. ” - rest unto your soul. In Christ’s name. Amen.