“…you are worried and distracted by many things…”

open hands

Messages on Luke 10:38-42

Each week, Moravians across the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean share a common message through their Sunday bulletins.

This month, we share writings based on Luke 10:38-42. This Bible text is for Proper 11 in Lectionary Cycle C of the Revised Common Lectionary used by the Moravian Church.

Luke 10:38-42   New Revised Standard Version

Jesus visits Martha and Mary

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

What We Need Most

David Geyer, pastor, College Hill Moravian Church, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania • July 21, 2019

In Jesus’ encounter with the two sisters in Luke 10:38–42, it’s easy to sympathize with Martha, isn’t it? When Jesus accepts her dinner invitation, we picture Martha working like crazy. We see her setting the fine china, slaving in the kitchen, lighting the dinner candles. But while Martha runs back and forth, sister Mary just sits there, listening intently to Jesus, not lifting a finger to help. Is it any wonder Martha feels frustrated?

But when Martha asks Jesus to call Mary to task, he comes to Mary’s defense instead, saying “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Poor Martha! By opening her home to Jesus—doing her Martha Stewart best to get every detail just right—isn’t she simply serving Jesus? Aren’t we all called to serve Jesus? Isn’t this a basic component of Christian discipleship, using our gifts and talents to serve our Lord?

Dedicated service is an important part of following Jesus. But here Jesus seems to suggest that it’s not the first priority. Even more than Jesus wants our service, Jesus wants our friendship. He wants time with us—time when we give him our undistracted attention, our listening ear, our open heart, our honest selves. This is the “better” part . . . the part we need most. Even more than our deeds, Jesus wants us.

When did you last take time just to “be” with Jesus? When did you last step away from life’s busyness and distractions, and offer Jesus the gift of your undivided attention, your fully present self? Do you have such times factored into your daily routine, your weekly schedule? Are they a priority?

Serving Jesus is important! But may our service for Jesus never distract us from spending time with Jesus. This, according to Jesus, is the “better part” . . . what we need most.


Mary and Martha

Peggy Carter, Good Shepherd Moravian Church, Kernersville, N.C. • July 23, 1995

“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?”

How often have we read these words and felt Martha’s resentment? Like her, we are overloaded with schedules, projects and deadlines. The demands of family, job, church and community threaten to overwhelm us, and we cry out for help.

But Jesus’ answer takes us by surprise. Instead of chastising Mary for not helping, he praises her for having chosen “what is better.” What are we to make of this, when Martha seems so clearly in the right?

If we read closely, we see that Jesus isn’t chastising Martha for doing wrong things. After all, she is only trying to take care of the many preparations for their honored guest. Certainly this is a worthy cause! But Jesus points out to her that she is “worried and upset about many things.” She is “distracted.” And the thing she is distracted from is the best thing— undivided attention to Jesus.

Perhaps what Jesus is trying to get across to Martha can be summed up in the old saying, “The good is often the enemy of the best.” In other words, there may be many causes clamoring for our time and energy—all of them worthy and just. But if we become so consumed by them—so distracted—that we neglect the one best thing, spending time each day sitting “at the Lord’s feet listening” to what he said, then we have allowed those worthy causes to become our enemies.

The text tells us that Martha “opened her home to him.” She invited Jesus in. But then she was to pay attention to him. Have we done the same?

Check the Attitude

Donna Hurt, Director of Christian Education, Grace Moravian Church, Mount Airy, N.C. • July 18, 2004

Martha and Mary were sisters, so possibly they looked alike—but they certainly did not share similar temperaments. They had different personalities; no problem. The challenge was to be loving and tolerant within those differences.

When Jesus arrived for a visit and probably a meal, both Martha (the conscientious planner) and Mary (the intuitive thinker) were excited. Martha had done everything imaginable to provide the best hospitality, yet she was still “distracted by her many tasks.” Mary, on the other hand, was totally reveling in the presence of Jesus, absorbing his every word. When Martha could stand it no longer, she basically caused a scene. Hoping that Jesus would suggest that Mary get up and help, she heard him say instead that Mary had “chosen the better part.” Martha had exhausted all her energy to be sure that Jesus’ visit was perfect, yet he had gently corrected her. Why?

Not for a moment should we assume that Jesus was ungrateful for Martha’s careful preparation toward his comfort. Not for a moment should we assume that Jesus valued intuitive thinkers over conscientious planners. No, Jesus was not as concerned about what Martha was doing as about what she was feeling. Jesus loved Martha, but he noticed some dangerous attitudes at the root of her emotional explosion, and he knew these would function within her like spiritual poisons.

When Jesus considered Martha’s behavior, he recognized the attitudes of resentment and narrow-mindedness. Because of resentment, Martha was being cut off, not only from her sister, but also from her Lord. Because of narrow-mindedness, Martha was blind to the miracle of uniqueness, unable to see in any way to receive the Master but her own. If you are one of the many conscientious planners like Martha, good for you. Just be careful to keep those dangerous attitudes of indignation and intolerance at a safe distance—in fact, completely out of sight.

The one thing needful

Lisa Mullen, Moravian pastor, Winston-Salem, N.C. • July 21, 2013

My husband calls them the “let them alone” stories: stories where someone is having an honest, faithful encounter with Jesus and others are standing between them and their Savior. Blind Bartimaeus shouts, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Others in the crowd sternly tell him to quit shouting. Children want to be near him, and Jesus tells his disciples, “Leave them alone, and do not hinder them. Let the little children come to me.”

There are many ardent, mercy-seeking followers willing to climb trees, be lowered through roofs, and even move into a crowd when they are unclean. They love Jesus with all their heart. Jesus always addresses them face to face, and loves them back.

In today’s Gospel, at their home in Bethany Mary’s sister Martha joins the chorus of those who might chastise someone for breaking the code of conduct—this time for not helping in the kitchen. Many people who read this story feel as if Martha is getting a bad rap. They say they feel sorry for her. But this is not a story about how we serve, about practical ways versus spiritual ways. It has more to do with how we are present to Jesus. Mary seeks the Lord with her whole heart and so he has chosen the one thing needful—the better portion.

However, Martha’s worry and distraction keep her at a distance. Jesus reminds her, “Martha, Martha, I am your guest, I am here. Join Mary and come sit down. Lay down your anxious burdens, and find the rest I give you. Come and be with me, while I am with you.”

May we all join Jesus like Mary, for with him by our side we have everything we need.