One Thing is Needed
One Thing is Needed
I first encountered Jesus in a personal way in 1974. Soon afterwards I heard a talk and, all these years later, I still remember it. It was given by an eighty-year-old man. The title was, ‘The Five “One Things”.’ His talk highlighted five significant occurrences of the expression ‘one thing’ in the Bible (Psalm 27:4; Mark 10:21; Luke 10:42; John 9:25; Philippians 3:13). Each one speaks about our priorities. One of those five occurrences is in our New Testament passage for today (Luke 10:42).
I have great empathy with Martha. Jesus said to her, ‘You are worried and upset about many things’ (v.41). There are so many things in life, but Jesus says, ‘only one thing is needed’ (v.42). It was Mary who had her priorities right.
1. The priority of his presencePsalm 41:7-13
You can know God’s presence and his pleasure in the midst of all the challenges of life.
David had his worries and distractions. He had his enemies and, like Jesus, he says, ‘Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me’ (v.9; see also John 13:18).
Be confident, as David was, in the ultimate triumph of good over evil (Psalm 41:11b). Know that God is pleased with you (v.11a). David’s overwhelming desire is that God would set him in his presence (v.12). Make this your highest priority. This is what you were created for. The presence of God satisfies your deepest need.
Father, help me today to enjoy your pleasure and your presence in the midst of all the challenges and difficulties of life.
2. The priorities of JesusLuke 10:25-11:4
What are your priorities? Is time with Jesus something you try and squeeze into your busy schedule? Or do you schedule your relationship with him as your number one priority?
A learned theologian and lawyer asks Jesus, a layman, the billion dollar question about the way to eternal life.
Jesus gives us a model way to respond – and one that we try to follow in small group discussions on Alpha. In effect, Jesus asks the question, ‘What do you think?’ (10:26,36).
The lawyer gives the correct answer: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ (v.27). This should be your highest priority. Your next priority is to love your neighbour as yourself.
Jesus then asks another question which shows that the lawyer is looking for a loophole (v.29). He wants to make ‘neighbour’ a term of limited liability – family, friends, relatives, members of the same people and religious community.
Jesus responds with a story about injustice. A man was travelling on a notoriously dangerous road, seventeen miles long with a 3,000 foot descent from Jerusalem to Jericho. He was carrying goods and valuables. He became a victim of injustice. He was robbed, stripped, beaten and left for dead (v.30).
The religious leaders came along. First, the priest (who had probably just been running the services in the temple in Jerusalem) and then the Levite (the assistant responsible for the liturgy and music). Both ‘saw’ the victim (vv.31–32) but neither of them stopped. There are at least three possible reasons why they, and we, don’t get involved:
- We are too busy
Possibly they were in a hurry. They didn’t want to get involved in a time-consuming activity.
- We don’t want to pollute ourselves
Touching a dead body would have made them unclean for seven days (Numbers 19:11). They would not have been able to enter the temple during this period (Leviticus 21:1). They might have lost their turn of duty at the temple.
- We don’t want to take a risk
Obviously there were robbers around. This could have been a decoy for a possible ambush.
The audience listening to Jesus would have been shocked by the eventual hero of the story. Jesus chooses their least favourite person. The Samaritans were a race despised by Jews socially, politically and religiously. This is a story about a person of a different race and religion having compassion (Luke 10:33). The Samaritan provided practical help. It cost him time, energy and money (vv.34–35).
The story Jesus told shows that the lawyer asked the wrong question (v.29). The right question is not, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ but, ‘To whom can I be a neighbour?’ Jesus teaches the absolute and unlimited nature of the duty of love. Jesus came to destroy all the barriers. The whole human race is our neighbour.
Queen Elizabeth II said in one of her Christmas Day messages: ‘For me, as a Christian, when Jesus answers the question, “Who is my neighbour?” the implication drawn by Jesus is clear. Everyone is our neighbour, no matter what race, creed or colour.’
‘[He] passed by on the other side’ (v.31b) is such an evocative expression. There are so many hurting people around us. Once you have seen, don’t be like the priest and the Levite in Jesus’ parable and pass by on the other side. The Samaritan ‘took pity’ (v.33b), he took care of him (v.34b) and he gave his money (v.35). Jesus says at the end of this story, ‘Go and do likewise’ (v.37b).
Draw near to people who are in need – get involved and help them. You are never more like God than when you are helping hurting people, lifting up the fallen and restoring the broken. Try to make this a high priority in your life. Yet the next story shows that your ability to do this stems from an even higher priority.
Mary had her priorities right. She ‘sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he said’ (v.39). She realised that, although there were many distractions and worries around, there was nothing more important than simply sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to him. This should be your number one priority.
Martha was too busy to take time to enjoy her friendship with Jesus when he came to her home. Not spending time with Jesus is the biggest mistake you can make in your spiritual life. Nobody on their death bed ever said, ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office.’ Many regret not spending more time on their most important relationships.
It is probably no accident that the next story Luke tells is about Jesus teaching his disciples how to pray. We see Jesus himself modelling the importance of spending time with God in prayer, and the interest that sparks in his disciples (11:1). That is then the context for him to teach them the ‘Lord’s Prayer’.
The prayer starts with extraordinary intimacy with God, as you are encouraged to call him ‘Father’. But a relationship with God should impact the rest of your life as well. Pray for daily provision (v.3). Pray ‘your kingdom come’ (v.2), and think about the sins you need to forgive in others, or be forgiven in yourself (v.4).
There are many different ways to develop a relationship with Jesus. Whatever way you do it, it needs to be your number one priority.
Lord, help me to enjoy your presence. May I have the love and courage to lift up the fallen, restore the broken and help hurting people.
3. The priority of relationshipDeuteronomy 2:24-4:14
Moses recorded how God had given them the land and had also given them the commands. Yet the greatest privilege for the people of God is not the land or the law but the love of God: ‘The Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him’ (4:7).
Furthermore, there seems to be an intentional connection between the way God’s people were instructed to live and the impact they would have on the other nations (v.6). God intended them to be a highly visible example both as to the nature of the God they worshipped, and as to the quality of social justice embodied in their community. In other words, following the example of the Good Samaritan has an evangelistic consequence.
The law is an expression of God’s love and desire to be close to his people. That is why they are urged, ‘Watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them’ (v.9). The law was given in the context of the covenant (v.13). It starts with God’s commitment to us and his love for us.
Likewise, the new covenant starts with God’s commitment through the death and resurrection of Jesus and through God’s love being poured into your heart by the Holy Spirit. You have permanent access to the presence of God (Ephesians 2:18).
Father, help me to stay close to you, to live in your presence, sitting at the feet of Jesus, hearing your words and going out and acting on them.
I can sympathise with both Mary and Martha. I know the feeling of tearing around trying to prepare something while people are sitting around ‘being spiritual’ and doing nothing when there is still masses to be done. But, I also have experienced times when I have been the one seated, while others have been running around working hard. I was struck by a talk of Brian Houston’s called ‘Burden and Ease’: both are necessary in life.
Verse of the Day
‘… the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him…’ (Deuteronomy 4:7).
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.