Winston Churchill is credited with saying “You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.”
That is to say: we get distracted quite easily.
Oh look! A squirrel!
Churchill’s comment is apposite when reading Luke 10, for it is set in the context of journeying. The two chapters (Luke 9 and Luke 10) have described the widening scale of Jesus’s mission and his sending out of the disciples on mission trips, but the underlying journey to which Jesus is committed is to Jerusalem and to the destiny of the cross. And so v38 begins, “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way…”
The “way” always leads to the cross.
So they are on their way and must not lose focus. No detours, and no distractions. The previous chapter concludes on this note:”As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51) The last part of the verse reflects Isaiah 50: “I have set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.” (Isaiah 50:6-7)
Any kind of a focus is a statement of priorities. As soon as you put something first it means that something else must come second. We are called to seek first the kingdom of God. And ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’ (Luke 9:62)
It feels in Luke 10 as if there is a change in pace – a lessening of that intensity – and the author includes what seems to be something of a pastoral interlude. But no, even here that same call to focus persists:
“He came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 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!’
41 ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’
We notice the way that Luke quietly stresses the importance of female ministry here (“A woman named Martha opened her home to him...) just as he did in Luke 8:3 (“These women were helping to support them out of their own means”) but this time he offers a gentle critique.
The two women of the house respond to their guest differently. The older is “distracted by all the preparations that had to be made” and the younger “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.”
Mary takes the position of a disciple, or a worshipper, or a daughter and won’t be dislodged. Martha takes the role of the servant.
Martha grumbles about this, insisting that the work has to be completed. “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” Let’s get all the practical details sewn up first and then there will be time to moon about later.
Well, it sounds like logical sense, but Jesus refuses to agree (or to be chivvied into agreeing -there’s a bit of manipulation here!). “‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’ “
The point being that it is possible for service to be a distraction to worship.
Even as our journey continues, it is possible for our service to become servile, and for our ministry to become formalised into a performance. We get cluttered with rotas. The buildings have to be maintained and paid for. The flowers need to be arranged. Visits have to be undertaken, sermons have to be prepared and the boiler has to be fixed.
And you get “worried and upset about many things.”
It is possible even to forget that you are indeed on a journey and called to travel light.
Jesus doesn’t say that all these other things are wrong, only that they come second. And “Mary has chosen what is better.”
So do we just abandon everything, then? Should the boiler remain unfixed and the flowers wilt in their vases? There’s the implication in Jesus’s answer that the importance given to secondary issues is a little overblown. “Few things are needed” after all.
But the main, absorbing focus is on Jesus. Anything that distracts from that is a non-essential, a “worry” or an “upset”that is trivial by comparison. Jesus is the whole reason for the journey anyway! He is the one who has called you!
We once had a Nigerian pastor stay with us for a few days. It was a delightful and wonderful experience upon which we often reflect. Our small children adored him, our slightly belligerent dog turned soft as putty under his caress, and we all just listened to his stories and received the blessing of his presence. And during the week, total strangers came to the door, having somehow heard that he was there, requesting prayer, wisdom and love. He spoke authoritatively over those who were sick and troubled and, well, if I can say this reverently – it was like having Jesus in the house.
He was a lovely, lovely man, shining with the joy of his saviour. And when he left, it was like the sun had gone in.
Sure the dishes had to get washed. But don’t tell me that it was particularly important to get them done. In comparison to being with our guest, it was trivial, and irrelevant.
Craig Groeschel wrote a quirky little book called Weird: Because Normal Isn’t Working where he provided an interesting insight into living life in focus. He said: “Normal people live distracted, rarely fully present. Weird people silence the distractions and remain fully in the moment.”
“Be still, and know that I am God.”
No matter what you have to do today, don’t let the bits and pieces of a million things distract you from that warm, loving centre. Take a few minutes to focus on Him. Nothing else is as important as knowing Him.
Be my source, be my light
Jesus, be the centre
Be my hope, be my song
Be the fire in my heart
Be the wind in these sails
Be the reason that I live
Jesus, be my vision
Be my path, be my guide