By Steve Wickham
Left to do all the work herself whilst her sister, Mary, sat at her Lord's feet, Martha complained bitterly, "Tell her to help me!" "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "You are worried and upset by many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:38-42 NIV)
Choices. Life is littered with choices, especially in this rich Western life we have in our day. We get a clue regarding the best choice. Mary chose what is better. She chose to devote her time to worship and experience her Lord; it wasn't slackness, but devotion. Not the easy option; actually the difficult one. How easy is to stop and be, in the moment? It's too difficult for nearly all in both secular and spiritual spheres collectively. We think busyness is a new thing. It is only a new word. Busyness has always been the great temptation of the conscientious.
Jesus doesn't criticise Martha for working and preparing the house and providing hospitality. He tells her off because her heart for the work she chooses is not right. If her heart was right there'd be no complaint -- just pleasure that her sister was edified and illuminated spending time with Christ. It's a lesson in approach to work -- the choice to work. There are only two 'musts' in life; we must take up physical space while we exist, and we must eventually die. Work, therefore, like everything else, is always a choice.
Mary chose a 'better portion' in the same way we would if we went to a banquet and chose the correctly balanced meal that was good for us; a small amount of high quality protein like fish, a little complex carbohydrate like rice, and about two thirds of the plate of vegetables or green salad. It's our choice at the end of the day. How many choose heavily-calorie laden foods and go back for second and third helpings? It might feel good at the time, but that's not the better choice. And we know it.
We all tend to worry about too many things. Jesus says, "Few things are needful, or only one," and this means there are few necessities in life and the simple things in life, and ways of living, are best.
There is much labour that is "good" and has merit. We often have so much choice in what we have to do in life that it's a matter of setting and constantly reviewing priorities -- it's a tricky business! When we try to achieve too much we become a harried mess. This is especially an issue for industrious people. We need to deliberately make choices to reject unimportant things that might even be good. Clearly at the top of the list of the most important things to do is experiencing the spirituality and mystery of God through worship. This is central to what is "better," and not just good, in life.
And it extends to this: what if this were your last day -- and it could be -- what is truly important? Does your idea of priorities change? Another indication we've made the right choice: the feeling of 'rest' and contentment when looking back afterward.
Copyright © 2008, S.J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
 Leon Morris, Luke - Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Revised Edition (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1974, 1988), p. 209-10.
 Darrell L. Bock, Luke - The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, (Downers Grove, Illinois & Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1994), p. 199-200.
 Ibid, p. 200.
Steve Wickham is a safety and health professional (BSc) and a qualified lay Christian minister (GradDipDiv). His key passion is work / life balance and re-creating value for living, and an exploration of the person within us.
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