Only One Thing

Only One Thing


A reflection on Luke 10:38-42

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing.”

I must admit it. I have a soft spot in my heart for Martha. I can understand her frustration and the range of emotions that must have filled her as she scurried about, preparing a meal for their guest, Jesus, while her sister just sat there and didn’t lift a finger to help. Much ink has been spilled on this gospel text and every time I approach it, I seem to come away with something different. As I sat quietly with it, another thought came to me. I wondered if the one thing necessary that Jesus counseled for Martha could be a quiet heart. I think that perhaps Jesus was trying to free Martha from the grip of her chronic anxiety and worry and move her along to her center, to what Benedict calls “a quiet heart.”

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Something comes up and we become emotionally agitated and dislodged from our center. The incident can hook into something deep in us that catches us every time, unless we recognize it, acknowledge it and then take one very important step. A step towards a quiet heart. How in the world can we get there in the midst of such emotional upheaval? It’s like a fish that takes the bait and then thrashes about, trying to get free. The more it thrashes, the more the hook sinks in. Sound familiar? It does to me. So what can we do?

I think Jesus’ words were meant as kindness to Martha, a gift of love, to help her to come to awareness of where she was coming from and what was going on inside her. Then, the gentle advice to lead her to her heart. He counseled her with a precious gem of wisdom: where to turn and what to do when these emotional upheavals came about and she was hooked. Turn to Jesus deep within her fractured heart. Allow him to give her rest and a quiet heart. It’s about knowing who to turn to and where to rest your heart. I don’t think Jesus was scolding Martha. Nor praising the fact of Mary’s inaction. He wasn’t talking about actions. He was talking about orientation of the heart. Mary was listening, tuned into Jesus. Martha got hooked on her inner agitation. Jesus offered her the way: how to find the one thing necessary by going to that place within where the one who loved her and gently called to her resides. She could yield her anxiety and worry to Jesus in a trust that knew he understood. Circumstances wouldn’t change, Mary would still sit there, but she could meet the circumstances from a different place: a quiet heart. Knowing who to turn to and in trust, yielding all the brokenness within to a gentle and understanding lover who, more than anything, desired her love and a share in her life.

As we venture into this new day, may we enter into it from our center, from a surrendered and trusting heart, oriented to the one thing necessary. Jesus.