Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better Luke 10:42
A few weeks ago at work I was talking to the mason on the church addition I have been working on in Miles City MT, and he asked me about my plans for the weekend. I told him I usually spend my weekends getting ready for and then doing church— “I pastor a small church in Red Lodge.” He looked kind of surprised, as everyone does when I tell them I’m a pastor, and says; “I didn’t know you were religious like that.”
I bristled a little when he said and I almost gave my standard reply; “I don’t have a religion; I have a relationship.” But I sensed that this wasn’t the time for this response. Perhaps it was the Spirit, perhaps it was instinct—more likely it was instinct guided by the Spirit—but I’m glad I listened because over the course of the next few weeks I had multiple opportunities, (especially as we were working on a Catholic church where all the trappings of religion are very evident), to talk to him about my relationship with the Lord in a natural way just in the course of conversation between two men working together, without having to seem defensive or patronizing.
I got to tell him why I was “religious” —as he put it. I have chosen what is better. Better than life with no one but me in control, better than life with drugs and drink in control, better than life with an institution, who claims to represent God, in control—and better than serving and striving to please the notion of a God, the knowledge of whom comes only from books and the interpretations of people who claim to have the answers that no one else seems to have.
I have chosen the better— I have chosen to have a relationship with the living God— but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better.
I am weak
I know myself well enough, I know my weaknesses well enough, my struggle with discipline and authority, even my inability to pay attention to someone, or anything, that is not that interesting to me. I know that I cannot have a religion and be diligent enough in it to have any meaningful and long term impact on my life— I have to have a relationship, and I suspect most of us do. That’s the way God made us— we are relational people.
Religion arises when people are persuaded that they cannot have a relationship with God and must defer to ministers for the guidance the Counselor, the Holy Spirit would give us—or people look to religion because they are afraid to submit to a God who wants to interact personally with them for fear of him dragging them out of their comfort zones.
“Just let me go to church, put my money in the plate, say a few Hail Marys, Hallelujahs, the apostle’s creed -or whatever, eat some crackers and juice or wine- whatever their serving, tell the preacher priest reverend rabbi that ‘you’re doing fine and you loved his message’ and then go on with life till the next mass service assembly meeting”— preferably as few as you can get away with attending without being called out for being a heretic or in danger if not being recognized at the gates of heaven.
Hopefully I’ll get enough heavenly brownie points to get me into heaven when it’s all said and done or enough people who do have a stack of brownie points prays— or lights enough candles— to push me over the threshold of them pearly gates.
That’s religion and I want no part of that, neither I believe, does our God. If that were enough Jesus would not have had to leave his throne in heaven and the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane; “Father if there is another way let this cup pass from before me!” —would have been answered by the Father; ‘Yes, there is another way, forget about the cross, just tell people to never skip synagogue, keep the law flawlessly and don’t forget to tithe.’
But that’s not what happened because Jesus was not just another prophet come to warn and remind people to keep the law and to keep trusting their God for a redeemer— Jesus was the fulfillment of the law and he was, and is, the redeemer. He came in flesh and blood to prove that we could have a relationship with him, the creator, and he became the fulfillment of the law—the final sacrifice for sin—so that we could be in continual fellowship with him by his Holy Spirit.
I remember one day when my daughter Cally was about 5 years old I came home and found a grim scene. Donna was looking worried and upset and Cally was looking terrified. Donna said, “I told Cally you were going to be really mad because she knows she is not supposed to be messing with your stuff.” She then pointed to my Bible which was sitting on my desk so I picked it up and leafed through it seeing that some of the pages were wrinkled. Donna said “I tried to straighten them out but a couple of them are torn.” I just looked at Cally and said, “It’s ok, that’s what scotch tape is for. Now you know that you have to be really careful when you look at my Bible because the pages are really thin.”
They both looked at me like “who are you?” They knew how important my Bible was to me and they were just sure I was going to be angry. But you know what? Because this book is in my heart and not just in my head, my love for my little girl was more important to me then the condition of this book—and it still is. When I looked into her eyes and saw the fear, the fear that I was going to be upset with her, it just wasn’t in me.
That’s all Jesus is saying, it’s not just knowing the words that are important, it’s knowing the Lord who spoke them, and the love with which he spoke them— the intent of the law.