This may be one of the most misunderstood stories in all the Bible. In Luke chapter 10, we find the account of Jesus having dinner at the home of Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus. Martha had invited Jesus and his disciples over for dinner. Mary sat at the feet of Jesus listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. Eventually Martha went to Jesus and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"
Jesus answered, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken from her." Ouch! Deinitely a mic drop moment. But what is the lesson of the story?
My whole life I was taught that in this story Jesus is affirming what Mary was "doing" and scolding Martha for what she was "doing". In other words, the workers of the world, those who get the job done, of which I am one, are second rate citizens in the kingdom of God. If you are a worker maybe you can relate. But the more I studied worship and the more I looked through the lens of relationship, I began to realize that this wasn't the lesson of the story at all!
There are two original language words in our Bible that get translated into the word "worship". One of the words means "to bow" which is what Mary was "doing". She was sitting at Jesus' feet listening to what he said. But the other word for worship means "to serve" which is what Martha was "doing". As a matter of fact, in the third test that Lucifer gives to Jesus in Matthew chapter 4, Jesus rebukes Lucifer by using both words in one statement, "Worship (bow) the Lord your God and serve him only." So both of the sister's actions depict acts of worship! Certainly Jesus is not scolding Martha for an act of worship. So what is the lesson of the story? What was Martha missing? What has Mary chosen that is better?
The answer to all three questions is relationship. What did Jesus say to Martha? "You are worried and upset about many things." Martha fell prey to what most of us workers tend to do; get over-focused on the doing, the work, the serving. The moment we get over-focused on the work is when the focus shifts to ourselves and not the relationship that is connected to the work. Jesus said that Mary chose what is better because she was focused on relationship. God always looks through the lens of relationship and relationship with God always translates into relationship with others.
This story could have gone the other way. Mary could have been sitting at Jesus' feet out of laziness and selfishness. Martha could have been serving out of love and gratitude. So simple yet so profound and challenging. Worship equals relationship. Relationship is the purpose of life. We worship God best when we love others. Worship is life!