Jesus continues on His journey to Jerusalem. He arrives, with His disciples, in the village of Bethany less than 3 kilometres away from Jerusalem (John 11:18).
Jesus comes to the home of a family He knows well. There are two sisters, Mary and Martha, who live in this particular home. They have a brother, Lazarus (John 11), but he plays no part in this story. The sisters are both disciples of Jesus. They have welcomed Him into their home as a demonstration of welcoming Him into their hearts (vv. 5–7). The gospel has met their spiritual needs and so they, in turn, meet the physical needs of those who bear this gospel.
One sister, Martha, is serving the guests, and there were probably many of them, and the other is taking the opportunity of Jesus’ presence to sit and listen to Him. Whom will Jesus commend? Anyone hearing this story for the first time would assume that Martha would be commended and Mary rebuked. After all, Jesus has just told a story about a Samaritan who put his faith into action.
Once again, Jesus surprises us. While Martha has been expressing her love for Jesus practically, the work has begun to overwhelm her and distract her from what she needs to focus on. Mary, though, has understood what is at the heart of discipleship—taking time to listen to the word of Jesus. Remember God’s words at the Transfiguration: “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him” (Luke 9:35). Jesus has made it abundantly clear: only one thing is needed (v. 42). Jesus is not dismissing Martha’s good work as unimportant; however, the wise disciple will not let the good take the place of the best.
Recently, my wife asked our four adult children how their daily Bible reading was going. It is a very important question. If we have let the busyness of life—even busyness in the Lord’s service—distract us, then we need to remember that “few things are needed—or indeed only one”(v. 42).
Read 2 Timothy 3:14–17. What do these verses tell us about the importance of God’s Word, and the impact it can have on our lives?
How are you doing in your daily Bible reading? What changes do you think you may have to make in the light of Jesus’ words?