Flashback Episode — Learning from the Sisters: Luke 10:38-42


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In one of the more well-known stories from the gospels, we meet two sisters, and from what we learn, these two sisters are opposite in many ways. However, what we discover in our passage is that one of the sisters is praised by Jesus, while the other one is challenged.

Those of you who are familiar with the gospels probably already know the event we will be focusing in on in this episode. Our passage comes to us from the gospel of Luke, chapter 10, and we will be reading it from the God’s Word translation. Starting in verse 38, Luke tells us that:

38 As they were traveling along, Jesus went into a village. A woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary. Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to him talk.

40 But Martha was upset about all the work she had to do. So she asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself? Tell her to help me.”

41 The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha! You worry and fuss about a lot of things. 42 There’s only one thing you need. Mary has made the right choice, and that one thing will not be taken away from her.”

In just five short verses, we find a powerful example about how damaging distractions can be in our lives. Looking at this event, Jesus pushes back against our to-do lists, and draws our attention to the importance of our relationships.

However, I think many people stop short when looking at this event. While it is true that we should focus on Jesus and not worry or fuss about all the details, I am certain that Luke chose to include this event for more than simple reminding busy people to stay connected to Jesus.

This event has plenty of other themes present, and some of these themes are very powerful when we look at them a little closer.

The first theme we see is one of the more obvious ones. While both Martha and Mary realized they had the opportunity of a lifetime to get to spend time near Jesus, we see two completely different attitudes from each of these sisters. Even though the passage opens up describing how this was Martha’s house that Jesus was welcomed in to, we learn that Mary sat and listened to Jesus. In Mary’s mind, the best thing she could do was listen and learn from Jesus.

In contrast, we then discover that Martha was focused on housework and all the busywork that was expected (in her mind) from a good hostess. Martha’s focus was on making a good impression to Jesus and His disciples. This contrast is significant. Mary’s goal was to learn from Jesus, while Martha’s goal was to please Jesus. With this contrast, we see the theme that it is more important for us to focus on learning from Jesus than trying to please Him through our actions.

However, this isn’t all we can learn from this event. In Martha’s outburst, we discover something else. Martha asks Jesus, presumably because Mary has ignored her direct requests, to tell Mary to get up and help her. The powerful theme and truth here is that it is easy for someone focused on a task to get upset when others don’t help them with their own goals.

Regardless of the significance of the goal, the goals we set in life feel more important than the goals that other people set. Martha had the goal of being a good hostess, and when Mary didn’t share the same goal as she did, Martha gets upset. Jesus’ response challenges Martha’s focus and tells her that Mary’s goal of resting, listening, and learning is more important than the busywork.

But this isn’t everything we can learn from this event. In Jesus’ response, we can discover two additional themes. In the first part of Jesus’ response to Martha, He says, “Martha, Martha! You worry and fuss about a lot of things. There’s only one thing you need.” This statement draws our attention onto the damaging nature of distractions. Jesus tells Martha that there is only one thing she really needs – and the implication is that one thing is not found on her to-do list. The one thing that Martha needs, and we all need this, is time with Jesus away from the distractions of life. Martha let the distractions of her to-do list get in the way of what was truly important, and while being a host or hostess has its responsibilities and challenges, we should never let distractions steal time away from what is truly important.

Martha’s case is the same as ours. The most important thing we can focus on is developing a relationship with Jesus. In this way, Mary made the right choice by sitting and listening at Jesus’ feet – and ignoring the distractions.

The second theme we can learn from Jesus’ response is in the last portion of what Jesus says. Jesus finishes by saying, “Mary has made the right choice, and that one thing will not be taken away from her.” In a subtle way, we discover that when we make the right choice, and that choice is spending time with God each day, He will help us keep the connection strong. While other things might try to distract us, or make us too busy to spend time with God, those distractions are the work of Satan trying everything he can to keep us from focusing on what is truly important.

Even good things can distract us away from spending time with God, but when a “good thing” is used as a distraction, we discover that this thing really isn’t good in the big picture. When we ask God for His help to focus on what is truly important, He will help us prioritize and He will help minimize the distractions we face. Know that God is never going to distract us away from spending time with Jesus.

While I’m sure there are other themes we could focus in on, this is a great theme for us to end on, and it is the perfect theme to transition into our challenges at the end of our podcast episode:

As I usually start by challenging you, be sure to seek God first, and intentionally focus on spending time with Him each day. Don’t let distractions steal you away from the one thing that is truly important for each of us. By intentionally spending time with Jesus, you are focusing on the one thing that is the most important thing for anyone and everyone in this life – and that is on growing a saving relationship with God.

As you spend time with God, be sure to pray and study the Bible for yourself, and let God teach you what He wants you to learn from the Bible. While a pastor or podcaster can give you ideas and themes to think about, only through personal study can you discover and grow a personal relationship with God!

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or get distracted while going to where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year 4 – Episode 26: What can Mary and Martha teach us about focusing on Jesus? Discover several themes we can apply into our own lives through the first time these sisters spend with Jesus.

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