What is the “one thing”?

Depending upon how you read the story of Mary and Martha appointed for Sunday, and depending upon which character you most closely associate, you can read the response of Jesus to Martha in several different ways.

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.”

In order to get a feel for the tone of Jesus, we can look at the Greek (sorry Evan, I do say that in sermons and think it has a place there, but that’s for another day) which reads “The Lord answered her saying…” and is of absolutely no help.  If you are a Mary, you probably hear Jesus speaking to Martha in a soft, corrective tone.  If you are a Martha, maybe you hear Jesus adding one more thing to your to-do list.  If you were ever Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, or Reformed, you probably hear Jesus chastising Mary.

I’m a Martha, but I here I hear Jesus speaking softly and gently, eager that I might put away my worries on focus on the “one thing.”  Of course, here Jesus isn’t giving some big sermon so he doesn’t have his rhetorical check list handy and forgets that pronouns need a direct antecedent: leaving us to figure out what that “one thing” is.  A quick Google search will help a good Martha turn that “one thing” into a thousand more things: Bible Study, Prayer, Focus, Service, Joy, Being Born Again, Salvation, and on and on.

I’ll add to that list my own thought on that “one thing” that Martha needed in her life – Jesus.  Here I’m projecting on Martha in light of my post from Monday, but she needed to stop focusing on the myriad things on her to-do list and instead focus on the presence of her friend in the room.  Maybe it is better said that Martha’s one thing wasn’t so much Jesus as it was being present in the moment.

“Be here with me Martha,” Jesus seems to say, “and the rest will take care of itself.”

2 thoughts on “What is the “one thing”?

  1. Yeah, I get it. And the fact that I wrote about it suggests that it belongs in sermons, but I bet you, like me, have heard too many bad sermons that started with an essentially irrelevant appeal to the Greek text as a way of over-compensating for bad exegesis. I’ve heard it so many times that I’m scared of it. But it’s often right below the surface of my sermons even if I never say the words “Greek text.”

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