But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”Luke 10:41-42 NLT
As previously noted, I have come to think of the six chapters in the middle of Luke’s Gospel as being like a training manual for those who want to follow Jesus. It is possible to discern four aspects of discipleship in these chapters: task, attitude, experience, cost. These verses about Mary and Martha in chapter 10 tell us something about the attitude of the disciple, but also about the task.
The key words of Jesus are in verse 42: “there is only one thing worth being concerned about,” Jesus says. “Mary has discovered it.” What was it that Mary had discovered? There is only one short sentence describing Mary’s actions:
Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught.Luke 10:39 NLT
That’s it, straight from Jesus’s lips, the one thing worth being concerned about: sitting at the Lord’s feet and listening to what he teaches.
How many of us find time in our busy schedules for this apparently passive activity? How many of us spend time “sitting at his feet?” How many of us devote ourselves to listening to what he teaches? What do these things even mean, practically speaking?
Perhaps “sitting at his feet” is more about attitude than posture. It evokes a sense of humility (looking up to Jesus), of curiosity, of eagerness, of anticipation. How can we cultivate such an attitude? Perhaps it begins by simply sitting quietly knowing that he is with us, and meditating on his presence, thinking about “what he looks like,” the person that he was, the person that he is, and the fact that he is able and willing to be with us if we give him the time of day.
How relevant this is for us Jesus followers in the age of distraction. It says in this story that “Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing.” She didn’t have time for just sitting around. We are distracted by far more trivial things than dinner. Computers, smart phones, TV, news services, email, social media, instant messaging, shopping, talking, the list goes on and on. We are even distracted by the busy-ness of being a Christian in this day of endless church activities and involvement. There is just no time left in the day to “sit at Jesus’ feet.” I for one need to change my life in this area.
And how do we “listen to what he teaches?” Well, the obvious answer is that we need to read the Bible. Specifically we need to read the gospels, because they tell the story of Jesus’ life and record not just what he said, but what he did, and much of what we learn from a person comes from watching their behaviour. Something I have never done, but which I think would be very worthwhile, would be to sit down with the Bible and go through the gospels one by one and make a summary of the “teachings of Jesus.” That is the kind of thing I did with the different texts that I studied in high school, to prepare me for exams. If I could do it at school, as a teenager, surely I could do the same thing now, as an adult? Why do so few of us do it?
Sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to what he teaches – this surely is the “most important thing” when it comes to continuing the Christian life. For us that means times of quiet, meditating on the Jesus we have got to know from the gospels, and times of study, when we read what is recorded of Jesus’ teachings, and ask the Spirit of Jesus to help us understand and apply these things to our own lives and situations. Everything else is peripheral to these activities. This is the core of our life, from which everything else flows. When these activities stop being the centre, then no matter how many good things we do, no matter how many good books we read or good sermons we listen to, we start to drift away.
If we have drifted away, we need to rediscover what Mary discovered: “the one thing worth being concerned about.”