One Thing

In ancient Greece, Homer’s Iliad & Odyssey enjoyed a status much like the Bible in our own culture. One of Homer’s more famous stories is when Odysseus has to thread his ship between the sea monsters Sylla and Caribdis because there is no other way through the Strait of Messina — too far to port or starboard is doom. I feel that way about most of the Big Questions: regarding Science I try to thread my way between the Sylla and Caribdis of uncritically accepting Science (as does Richard Dawkins — the popular atheist author) and uncritically rejecting it (flat earthers?); likewise uncritically embracing the Bible (the world was created 6000 years ago) and uncritically rejecting it (e.g. Richard Dawkins again?). By the way, I mean ‘criticism’ in the sense of really thinking something through, NOT ‘putting it down’. When one makes ‘critical thinking’ a practice, one soon sees that even seemingly simple questions are frequently multi-faceted.

I think the Bible is full of examples of ’multi-faceted’. For example, the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10): Martha is busy making food for everyone while Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, Martha complains that Mary isn’t helping, Jesus chides Martha: "Mary has chosen the better part".

Elsewhere Jesus says "I was hungry and you fed me", so I don’t think Jesus is criticising Martha for preparing food for everyone! What exactly does He say? "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 away from her."

First, He is pointing out that she is ‘worried and upset about many things’ — never a good idea.

More interesting is the next sentence: "Mary has chosen what is better." We jump to the conclusion that He must mean "sitting at Jesus’ feet". But Jesus didn’t say that. He could have so easily made this clear by saying “only one thing is needed – to sit at my feet". But He didn’t. Instead He leaves ‘what is better’ ambiguous — as if to make us think about that.

What if He is suggesting "Mary was clear in her mind about what was better for HER, and she followed that choice, and the results of that are not taken away." After all, Martha complained about Mary, but Mary didn’t complain about Martha! Martha expected others to do as she did; Mary didn’t. As far as we know, if Martha had just been clear in her own mind about her choice to serve in the kitchen, and hadn’t complained, she never would have been chided by Jesus.

So to be sure this story has the face value meaning of spiritual matters being more important long term than lunch. But perhaps this is also a lesson along the lines of "be clear in your own mind about your own choices, and don’t expect others to make the same ones" — especially when you’re on the same team, and the other person is doing something worthy too! After all, both Mary and Martha were serving Jesus in their own ways. "You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed." Right. Because we are so finite, it’s all we can do to choose ‘one thing’. No use being worried and upset about many other things. Choose your ‘one thing’, your one task at hand, devote yourself to it without complaining, and the fruit of that won’t be taken away from you.

Just my $0.02.