A sermon for the Watford church of Christ

The ‘One Thing’ Series

We take a look at our third ‘one thing’ passage found in Luke 10:38-42.

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”” (Luke 10:38–42 NIV11)


The previous section (Luke 10:25-37 – the Samaritan) is focussed on how we treat other people in a way that pleases God. This section focuses on how we treat God himself. The ‘horizontal’ dimension of relationships is followed by the ‘vertical’ dimension.

Martha opened her home to him

This is not the only time Martha and her family are mentioned. You might like to compare this scene with the one in John 11. It looks like the death of Lazarus is later than Luke 10. The family’s relationship with Jesus appears to have a deeper maturity. Do you see it that way?

Mary…sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said

Literally this means, ‘listening to his word.’ It carries the idea of paying attention in order to obey. It is an attitude of being willing to take in what one is hearing rather than letting it wash over you. Is this our attitude when we read the Scriptures?

Martha was distracted by all the preparations

When God shows up, are we too busy? That might be a slightly simplistic question, but given how busy we all are with ‘good’ things, we must pay attention to our ability to notice God’s presence. That noticing does not happen by accident. It is an attitude cultivated into healthiness by practice and a desire for God to be our ‘one thing’ (Psalm 27).

few things are needed—or indeed only one.

Martha detects a lack of compassion in Jesus, or so she thinks. Jesus does not appear to care about the injustice in the house. Yet Jesus applauds Mary’s conviction in being focussed on the “one thing that is needed” and does not bow to Martha’s request. Surely it is indeed unfair that the burden of preparation has fallen exclusively onto Martha? Martha is not only working hard, but is the one recorded as “opening her home” to Jesus. This is a generous act. Why is it not that Mary opened the home as well? Was Martha older? Did Mary live in a different house? We don’t know for sure, but it seems likely that Martha was the senior sister.

“…Martha has a traditional view of the woman’s place being in the kitchen: Jesus’ acceptance of Mary as a disciple at his feet is radical indeed (10.38–42).” Burridge, Richard. Four Gospels, One Jesus?: A symbolic reading . SPCK.

Martha is not given ‘credit’ for her service. It is Mary that is ‘credited’ because of her submission to the more important thing – sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening.

“Against convention, he approved of Mary of Bethany sitting at his feet to learn from him, like a male disciple, when custom would have had her helping her sister with the meal preparations (Luke 10:38–42).” Bartlett, Andrew. Men and Women in Christ . IVP.

“To sit at a teacher’s feet…was to adopt the posture of a disciple.This is the posture that Mary adopts, and Jesus defends her adoption of this role against Martha’s preference for traditional matronly roles (Luke 10:38–42).” Two Views on Women in Ministry (p. 245). Zondervan.

What does Jesus mean by, “it will not be taken away from her”? A strange sounding phrase. Perhaps it is because of her decision to ignore her sister’s request to help and instead sit at Jesus’ feet. Such an action demonstrates her conviction about the correct priorities. As a result she is assured of the continued presence of Jesus in her life (the implication of “it will not be taken away from her”). If this priority is a settled conviction it will inform her whole life and as a consequence the entirety of her life will be effected and blessed.

What about us?

“Being overcommitted, too busy and preoccupied are not new to contemporary society. Martha was confronted with the same dilemma we face every day. Will we take on too many things or be concerned about the wrong things and thus miss the most important things?” Smith, James Bryan. The Good and Beautiful God (p. 173). John Murray Press.

For Reflection

1. The ‘good’ can be the enemy of the ‘best’. Are some good things getting in the way of what is most needed in your relationship with Jesus? What can you do about that?
2. Is God calling you to ‘sit’ more than ‘serve’? How do you feel about deliberately taking time to sit at Jesus’ feet to learn from him? Is it easy, hard, frustrating? What are you learning about your devotion to Jesus?
3. Mary and Martha both loved Jesus. Martha was not bad-hearted, nor did she have a personality disorder or OCD. She and her sister made different choices one day. Luke recorded the events to make sure we could reflect on our choices. What is this revealing to you about your choices?
Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community.

Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: [malcolm@malcolmcox.org](mailto:malcolm@malcolmcox.org).

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“Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” (Psalms 100:2 NIV11)

God bless, Malcolm