But the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:41-42 NASB)
As I have written before, my favorite theologian and commentator is Matthew Henry (1662-1714). His words, though written several centuries ago, still ring true. Henry cuts like a blade to the heart of Martha's distress, and, unfortunately, to my own. "He (Jesus) was not pleased that she should think to please him with a rich and splendid entertainment, and with perplexing herself to prepare it for him; whereas he would teach us, as not to be sensual in using such things... The many things she was troubled about were needless, while the one thing she neglected was needful."
Think about that for a minute. Martha was troubled about her preparations because she was trying to present a "splendid entertainment" to Jesus, thinking that she would impress and please Him with the lovely and lavish presentation. Martha expected to be gratified by Jesus' response to the details of her presentation. She was going to do a great and memorable job, make a fantastic meal, and Jesus would be impressed. She would get the credit and revel in the kudos. I've been guilty of this, and on more than one occasion. What concerns Jesus is not the lavishness of our service, and it is not that we did such an elaborate effort that we were completely exhausted by it. What concerns Jesus is the heart with which we do that service. A simple presentation done by a heart filled with love is infinitely preferable to an elaborate work done by a grumpy, irritable heart.
Martha anticipated that her own gratification would come when Jesus praised her for all her hard work. She must have been sorely disappointed when Mary received His praise instead. It is not the work of our hands that most pleases Jesus. It is the work of our hearts. This is a truth that has been hard for me to learn, but one that is very freeing. It took years for me to understand that a plastic tablecloth placed with love is infinitely better than a lace tablecloth starched, ironed, and placed with resentment.
Henry's words about the "one thing" are so insightful that we do well to consider them. "Godliness unites the heart, which the world had divided." When I pursue godliness as my aim, the divisions the world would make in my heart are united. It is an astounding truth that, when we are overwhelmed by the things of this world, tugged and torn in every direction, uncertain which way to go, we can find both peace and the answers we seek at the feet of Jesus. Godliness unites the heart.
Do we want to impress Jesus? There is only one way to do that, and it is the way of Mary. Do we want to find gratification in our service? There is one sure way to find that, and it, too, is the way of Mary. When you and I serve with love, when we make godliness our aim, we not only please our Lord, we find joy and contentment for ourselves. Let's begin our day, then, in the most important way. Seated, listening, at the feet of the Master. As we go our way, let us serve, nor from compulsion, but from love.