The 9th Sunday After Pentecost July 21, 2013


The One Thing Necessary

Luke 10:38-42

Scripture Readings

Psalm 119:105-112
1 Peter 1:22-25
Matthew 13:1-9


16, 284, 291, 293

Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted

Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Dear fellow-redeemed by the blood of God’s own Son:

There aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything that needs doing in our busy lives. We must choose some things over others. In most cases, our choices are not so important. But there are times, such as recorded in today’s text, when the best choice is vital to our spiritual and eternal life!

The Bible uses many pictures to describe the one thing that is necessary for life. It is described as food (Psalm 119:103, 1 Peter 2:2), seed (Luke 8:11, 1 Peter 1:23), a hammer (Jeremiah 23:29), a sword (Hebrews 4:12, Ephesians 6:17), a lamp and a light (Psalm 119:105), fire (Jeremiah 5:14), truth (John 17:17), and the power of God (Romans 1:16).

What all of these pictures describe is something so important, so powerful, and so necessary for life that human words and pictures fail to fully describe it’s value to us. All of these things describe the Word of our God. Mary chose THE ONE THING NECESSARY. I. Know it Fully, II. Seek it First, and III. Hold it Fast.


A certain lawyer asked Jesus what he should “do to inherit eternal life(Mark 10:17). When Jesus asked him what the Law said, the lawyer recited the Law of love toward God and one’s neighbor. He knew the Law recorded in Deuteronomy 6:5, but he did not have a full knowledge of God’s Word because he knew nothing of the Gospel of Christ.

We heard TV personality, Joe Scarbrough, a confessed Christian, express his irritation with those who teach that salvation with God can only be gained through faith in Jesus Christ. He announced to millions of viewers that the Bible is not about Jesus Christ being the only way to Heaven, but rather about how Christians are to love and serve others! He denied the Gospel in favor of the Law!

A rock star gets into a discussion with another television celebrity about how we ought to deal with terrorists. The TV interviewer quotes Exodus 21: “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” but the rock star objects: “That’s the Old Testament. The New Testament says that we are ‘to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.’” Both laugh!

This kind of ignorance regarding God’s Word is everywhere. The great majority of folks think they know enough of the Bible to get by. The “fast food” approach to the Bible is so popular, but so unhealthy for the soul. We need to know the Word fully.

There are many reasons that we need to know the Word of our Savior fully! Jesus summarized all these reasons when He told His disciples in John 6:63: “The words that I speak to you are spirit and life.” What John wrote at the end of His Gospel account is true of the whole Bible: “These are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you might have life in His name(John 20:31).

But this spiritual and eternal life is only sustained and nourished by God’s Word, and will be lost to those who neglect and leave the Word. As Peter said, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!(John 6:68). Let those who want spiritual and eternal life with God know His Word fully!

Those of us who are in the public ministry, who serve Jesus by bringing His Word to others, are to be reminded that we too need to know the Word still more fully for ourselves. We still need the grace, knowledge, and strength it gives. The apostle Peter encourages all of us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ(2 Peter 3:18). The Lord doesn’t want any of His dear ones to become stunted in their spiritual growth.

Peter also tells us: “Desire the pure milk of the word that you may grow by it(1 Peter 2:2). If we don’t grow in our knowledge of God’s Word, we can’t grow as Christ’s disciples. Our love for others will slacken, and our light will lose its luster. How often the Christian needs spiritual counseling in the simplest of matters because he doesn’t know the Word of God fully. Those who know the Word only “in part,” and have little desire to grow in the knowledge of it, leave themselves open to all sorts of temptations from the Evil One, who continually asks: “Did God really say…?” (cf. Genesis 3:1).


Martha believed in her Savior from sin, and she had a good understanding of God’s Word—both Law and Gospel. However, while Martha was very busy serving Jesus with all her might, Mary wanted Jesus to serve her with the soul food she craved for herself. Mary was actually serving Jesus better than Martha! How so? Because “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve(Matthew 20:28). The greatest joy we may give our Savior is to permit Him to do what He came into the world do for us—to serve us with His Word.

When Jesus says that Mary had “chosen the good part,[v.42] He’s not suggesting that Martha’s work was no good, or was done for the wrong motive. But Martha was so busy about Jesus that she was neglecting the opportunity to get closer to Him through His powerful Word. She might have rejoiced in Him even more, but instead she busied herself away from Him. Her share in Jesus is insignificant compared to Mary’s share. Martha is thinking backward: Before she could come and be with her Lord and meditate on His word, she thinks she must first give to Him. She wants to show Him how great her love is before she takes the time to rejoice in His grace and love for her.

Seek the Word first. Where there’s a choice between serving Jesus and our neighbor, or being served by our Lord in His Word and Sacrament, the general rule is clear: The better thing is to gladly hear and learn the Word of God. There are those times when a Christian will need to stay home from church on Sunday morning to care for a very ill member of the family, but exceptions do not nullify Jesus’ words. For example, how often do we miss the Sunday morning services because we have company? Rather than make other arrangements for the noon meal, some Christians choose Martha’s thing—rather than the necessary thing—and stay home from church.

There are many distractions that don’t even measure up to Martha’s choice! Take other reading material for instance. Luther was a very well-educated and well-read man. Yet he regarded himself as an “enemy” of the books in his library and guarded himself against them lest they interest him too much and distract him from reading the Bible—the source of all wisdom.

Seek the Word first! Mary’s humble devotion and complete attention to Her Savior’s Word stands for all time as the true mark of discipleship, the choice of greatest blessing, and the most necessary thing!


There is a wonderful promise included in Jesus’ response to Martha. When Martha asked Jesus to tell Mary to stop being lazy and help with the meal preparation, Jesus refused. Mary will be permitted to continue in this thing she has chosen—that’s a promise! “Mary has chosen what is better,” and what she has chosen “will not be taken away from her,” Jesus says. [v.42]

Mary had chosen to hold fast to the Word of her Savior. All serving of Jesus in a material way will eventually be discontinued in the resurrection. But the hearing of His Word by His faithful disciples shall continue into eternity. The Gospel Word is the “power of God unto salvation(Romans 1:16), and anyone who gladly hears and learns this Word is kept under the power that gives eternal life! Hold fast the hearing of the Word as the one necessary thing in your life!

An article in Cure magazine brought me both a chuckle and a choke. I chuckled to read how important it is for us to know that, according to a recent study, people who regularly have cut flowers in their home suffer less from moodiness and depression than those who have scented candles. Laughable isn’t it? Whatever small truth there may be in such a silly comparison, I get a lump in my throat when I think of how God’s Word is neglected and despised as something weak and powerless when holding fast to the hearing of God’s Word is the most necessary treatment for moodiness and depression!

Jesus actually says that Martha was continually distracted and “troubled about many things.[v.41] On the other hand, by choosing the one necessary thing—Christ’s Word—Mary chose rest for her soul in the Word of her Savior.

The picture of Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus and holding fast to His Word is a picture of rest. I have seen it again and again: those for whom the hearing of the God’s Word is only an occasional thing, are often without its guidance and strength in time of temptation and without it’s comfort and hope in time of suffering and death; but those who humbly hold fast to the Word as the most necessary thing in their lives are themselves held fast in times of temptation, trial, and death.

For 2,000 years the scoffers and enemies of God’s Word have predicted the failure of the Christian Church and the disappearance of the Bible. In the early 1700s, at the height of the European conflict between religion and philosophy, the French philosopher Voltaire made this boast: “In 20 years Christianity will be no more. My single hand shall destroy the edifice it took twelve apostles to build.” After his death several years later, Voltaire’s own printing press was used to print an edition of the New Testament.

Peter says “the Word of the Lord endures forever(1 Peter 1:25). That which endures forever, which creates and preserves spiritual and eternal life, we had better know fully, seek first, and hold fast, as the one necessary thing! Mary received grace to choose the “good part,” and it was not taken from her. May each of us receive the same grace from our Lord until we sit at His feet forever! Amen.

—Pastor Vance A. Fossum

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