Reevaluating Work – Work as an Idol
(Luke 10: 38-42)
Nichola and Darren were bubbling over with excitement. It took them 17 months of planning and $17,000 of expenses to make sure they would have a perfect wedding. All went as planned – until the morning of the wedding.
The make-up done at a department store took longer than expected and the results were less than flattering. The vintage car that the couple reserved could not be used, as it had no seat belts. As a result, Nichola and her two small kids hat to pile into her Ford Focus. On her way to the church Nichola remembered that she forgot the dress of one of the flower girls and had to return home to retrieve it. That was when she got a text from her bridesmaid saying she couldn’t come because her child was sick. When Nichola finally got to the church she was so late that she missed the ceremony. Darren, angry and embarrassed, never really forgave her and they broke up shortly afterwards. (Source: The Sun. Bride and Doom: Woman dumped by her husband-to-be when she missed her OWN L12k wedding, January 28, 2018)
Doing lots of good things in preparation for the biggest day of her life kept Nichola from experiencing that big day. Today we will look another person who was so distracted by good things that she missed out on the best Thing. We will see that she is not alone. We too have allowed the good to get in the way of the Best.
(Read the text)
1. The Martha Syndrome (“distracted by all the preparations”)
Three people are present in this narrative, Martha, her sister Mary, and Jesus. They each have significant things to say to us.
Let’s look at Martha first. Martha was crazy busy. Why shouldn’t she be? After all Jesus was there. But Martha was not present. Like many of us, she “opened her home to Jesus”. And like many of us she was “distracted by all the preparations.”
Martha was a very religious Jewish woman who was an idolater. What is idolatry? Well, it is not what we commonly think it is. Idolatry is not bowing down to a statue or object manufactured by humans and giving your life to it. Idolatry is elevating good things – like work – and making it the main thing. Idolatry is taking a secondary occupation and making it our primary occupation. It is making the good become the ultimate. Martha let work get in the way of worship.
Jesus saw right through Martha. He saw that she was losing control of the situation. What happens when we lose control of things? Like Martha we get worried.
The red light that lights up on the dash board of our car tells us that something is not right. Worry is like that. Worry tells us something is not right. Martha thought that the circumstances were not how they should be – Mary should help, there’s just too much to do for one person. We think that by changing the circumstances we can alleviate anxiety. But that is not the answer. The true issue is who is in control of life? Worry always tells us that we are not in control.
When we are worried and when no solution is in sight, it affects our emotions. Like Martha, we get upset. Emotions should never drive our behavior. Emotions will, however, always indicate what we think and value.
“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?” No, Jesus did not care that Mary wasn’t helping Martha. Martha’s question reflected her own self-pity. “Lord, look at how my sister has shafted me! Look at the burden I am under! Lord, look at all that I am doing and can’t continue to do without Mary’s help.” Martha was full of self-pity. Self-pity is not a virtue. Self-pity is a sign of an ego-driven personality. It wasn’t about Jesus. It wasn’t even about Mary. It was about Martha.
Many of us have succumbed to the Martha-Syndrome. We want to be in control. To be in control we need to produce good results. After a while the work itself takes on massive proportions. Work runs our lives and becomes the god that we serve.
When that god is not satisfied we feel it – we get anxious, start blaming others, and get distracted by many things.
The way Mary responded to the presence of Jesus in the midst of lots of work is the challenge that we face. Jesus said as much. He told self-centered Martha to be more like Mary, for she has chosen what is better.
2. The Mary Challenge (“one thing is needed”)
What did Mary choose that was better than Martha’s choices? Mary chose to be attentive to Jesus. Instead of being captivated by work, she was captivated by Jesus.
For Mary Jesus became her main priority – not the work, not herself, not her sister. This is the challenge that we face daily here in Frankfurt.
How can we be more like Mary in a Martha world? The answer is this: we choose what Mary chose. She chose Jesus above work. What does that mean practically? It means that, like Mary, Jesus becomes our priority. If you want a life of emptiness then make what is secondary, primary. Make work your life and you will reap what you sow – worry, self-pity, distraction.
How do we make Jesus our priority in a Martha world? We make Jesus a priority by distinguishing between first time and full time. First time is that to which we give our attention at the start of the day. That should be Jesus. We should come to Him, like Mary and sit at his feet, express to Him our devotion of Him, and then rest in the reality that He is in control of all that happens. If Jesus is in the first time, we can give ourselves to work full time. But in doing so, we know that we are working with Jesus in command.
I recently had a conversation with a person who said that they thought what we at Journey Church were doing was great. Then she said this, “All religions worship the same God. It really doesn’t matter to whom you pray, the important thing is to pray.”
I wanted to tell her not to call Jesus a liar. Because that’s what she was actually doing. Jesus himself considered himself to be God and the only way to the Father. In John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life no one comes to the Father except through me.”
How do you respond to someone who is God? You respond like Mary; you devotedly sit at his feet. How well are you doing at sitting at the feet of Jesus?
3. The Jesus Response (“Mary has chosen what is better”)
Jesus, knowing who He was, said “Mary has chosen what is better”.
What is Jesus saying here? He is telling us to choose the greater over the lesser. God is greater than the work we do.
Jesus is saying that if we give ourselves to him, we should relax. Why? Because “that (HE) will not be taken away from her.” What you get when you give yourself to the ultimate person in the universe is the ultimate Person in the universe! God. Jesus. And He will not be taken from you!
You get to enjoy Him every day, for all the days of your life.
When I was in college my parents bought a small run-down cottage on a small lake in Wisconsin. My sister and her family spend every summer at Oma’s cottage on the lake. When my niece was seven years old I asked her this question: What do you like so much about Oma’s cottage?” Her answer: “OMA!”
For Jan-Ellen the best thing about the cottage was not the cottage, nor the lake. It was Oma. The best thing about what we do in this world is not what we do, but who has created us, loves us, died for us, rescued us – for what? For Him. To live in his pleasure, as Mary chose to do.
Missing your own wedding ceremony because you were distracted is bad. What could be worse? Missing out on God!
Jesus does not want that to happen to you. Choose Him above all things. Relax in who He is (the sovereign God) and what he has done for you (given his life in exchange for yours – for you to have life here and now, as well as in eternity).