The Needful Thing Requires Practice and Discipline

The Needful Thing Requires Practice and Discipline

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The Entrance of the Virgin Mary in the Temple (Ta Eisodia)

Now as they went on their way, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha received Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to His teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to Him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.” As He said this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” But He said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”  Luke 10: 38-42; 11:27-28 (Gospel from the Feast of the Entrance of the Virgin Mary)

We know that God has called each of us to something unique and special.  He has given each of us talents that will allow each of us to serve the world in some unique and special way.  More important, He has given each of us the means to glorify Him in this work.  There is no one on earth who is incapable of glorifying God in some way.

In the Gospel today, the day on which we celebrate the Entrance of the Virgin Mary into the Temple, we read from the Gospel of Luke, the story of Mary and Martha.  We know this story well, as it is read on August 15 (Dormition of the Virgin Mary) and September 8 (Nativity of the Virgin Mary).  We know that Christ was friends with Mary and Martha, and stopped by their house often.  As we are preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving, we can imagine Martha running around the house preparing the elaborate dinner.  We can feel her frustration as she sees her sister Mary sitting at the Lord’s feet, listening to Him teach, and wondering out loud, “Mary why won’t you come and help me, and Lord, why won’t you make her help me?”  Jesus tells Martha that there is one needful thing—Him—and that “Mary has chosen the good portion which shall not be taken away from her.”  (Luke 10:42)

There are many ways to interpret this Gospel passage—We’ve discussed “being a Mary in a Martha world.”  We’ve discussed that perhaps the needful thing that day wasn’t the elaborate meal but just fellowship.  We’ve discussed not fretting over small things, like a meal that will be eaten, digested and forgotten, and instead focusing on the big things that really matter—faith, family, and stewardship of our lives.

Today’s message is about discipline and consistency—if we are indeed going to center our lives around the “needful thing”—our faith in Jesus Christ—we have to understand that this takes discipline and consistency.  And in order to have discipline and consistency, we have to have desire.  And in order to have desire, we have to have some knowledge.  Because all of these things work hand-in-hand, in spiritual things, and in secular ones as well.

Let’s look at what it takes to be a good student—It takes discipline and consistency to study.  It takes desire to want to be a good student.  And it takes knowledge that being a good student leads to college, career, and many possibilities that are not there for the person who hasn’t been a good student.

Of course, one of the reasons we go to school is to learn a skill or a trade that will allow us to work, and ultimately to serve God and the world, using the unique talents with which He has blessed us.  Having said that, it is also necessary to understand that we have the choice to use our talents or not.  God doesn’t not force us to use our talents.  He does, however, hold us accountable for how we use what we’ve been given.

The Virgin Mary was given the most unique calling a person could ever have, to carry the Son of God in her womb.  Her parents, Joachim and Anna, were also given a unique calling, to bring into the world the girl that was going to do this sacred task.  She had faith and so did they.  They were not able to have children like others.  During that time of history, people saw the inability to have children as a sign that a couple did not have the favor of God.  (We know that this is no longer the case.)  So, Joachim and Anna carried a heavy burden throughout their lives.  Yet, they remained disciplined in their faith.  They never wavered in their love for God.

When they had their daughter, Mary, they gave her to the temple when she was two or three years old.  They weren’t angry or disappointed.  They passed away shortly thereafter.  They weren’t around when she came out of the temple over ten years later.  The Virgin Mary was raised in the temple by priests from the time she entered until she was about 14.  At that point, she came out of the temple and was almost immediately betrothed to Joseph.  During those ten years in the temple, her spiritual character was formed, her heart and soul were purified, she understood that she was being prepared for a unique, special and sacred task, even though she didn’t necessarily understand what it would be.  That is why she was calm and obediently answered the Archangel Gabriel, when he told her that she would bear the Son of God in her womb, with the words “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”  (Luke 1:38)

God has called each of us to something, perhaps not in as dramatic of a way and certainly not for as dramatic of a purpose.  Are we ready to answer that call?  Are we even ready to hear it?  Have our hearts and minds and souls been purified to the point where we can hear God speaking into them?  Have we had the discipline to learn and the patience to listen?  Indeed these are needful things.

As we begin the holiday season, as we scurry around shopping, preparing meals and the other stressful things that holidays can bring, let us not forget the needful things.  Let us not forget to pray, to read Scripture, to go to church and worship.  Let us not neglect the discipline to do all these things.   Because the repetition of practice and discipline of these things is what builds up the mind, the heart and the body and ultimately our lives, so that we can stay focused on Christ, and so that we can live out the unique call He has blessed each of us with—to glorify Him according to our unique talents and life circumstances.

Today is the prelude of God’s good pleasure, and the proclamation of humanity’s salvation. In the temple of God, the Virgin is presented openly, and in herself she announces Christ to all. Let us, then, with a great voice cry aloud to her: “Rejoice, you are the fulfillment of the Creator’s dispensation.” (Apolytkion of the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple, Trans. By Fr. Seraphim Dedes)

“Discipline” and “disciple” share the same root.  It takes discipline to be a disciple.  Focus on living a disciplined practice of the Christian life!

These readings are under copyright and is used by permission. All rights reserved. These works may not be further reproduced, in print or on other websites or in any other form, without the prior written authorization of the copyright holder: Reading © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA, Apolytikion of Abbot Marcellus © Narthex Press, Kontakion of Abbot Marcellus © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA.

The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

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Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0