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.”

Luke 10:38-42

How are you? I’m busy.

It seems very rare that when someone asks how are you that the answer is “I’m good.” It’s usually “I’m busy,” or a non-committal “I’m okay.” I wonder why that is. Is it that really no one is doing good? Or that everyone is afraid that if they say “I’m doing great” that the rest of the people who are “okay” or “busy” will get mad? The “I’m busy” response almost equates with “I’m alive.”

I’m not so sure that this busy-ness is a good thing either. I don’t know what it’s like to be bored, and as much as I sometimes say “I’d like to know what ‘boring’ is like,” the truth is I don’t. I don’t want to be bored. Many days I’d like to work with a little less intensity but boredom is not something I want to be.

There are many negative by-products of busy-ness. First, we are stressed out. And second, we are, by and large, not happy. And then there are the effects on our physical health, relationships, families, etc. Busy-ness is also a tool of the devil, who gets us out of balance, even using the attraction of productivity and success. I’m guilty of this, for sure. The devil is a master at taking what is attractive and somehow twisting it and making it problematic.

Today’s Bible verses are from the well-known story of Mary and Martha. The two sisters, along with Lazarus, their brother, were friends of Jesus. They lived in Bethany, which was only a few miles from Jerusalem. Because the Jews traditionally made a few pilgrimages a year to Jerusalem, it was not unusual for them to stay with family and friends. When Jesus and His disciples came to Jerusalem for the feast days, they would lodge with Mary and Martha and Lazarus. The story is told in Luke 10:38-42, of one such visit. Jesus was visiting, Mary was sitting and listening to Jesus and Martha was running around serving. Martha got upset and questioned why Jesus would be okay with Mary leaving her to serve alone. She asked Jesus to tell Mary to help her. Jesus rebuffed the request saying that Martha was anxious and troubled about many things, that one thing was needful, and that Mary was doing the needful thing and that would not be taken away from her.

There are those who see this passage as demeaning work. Who has time, they say, to just hang out with Jesus (or go to church, or read the Bible) all day when there is work to be done? Of course, work is a necessary part of life. And Jesus wants us to work, that’s why He gave each of us a talent, (See Matthew 25:14-30) a way to contribute to the world.

There are those who reflect on the challenge of this passage by speaking of having a “Mary” heart in a “Martha” world. That the world is filled with things to do, and we can’t forget to make time for our spiritual lives and our relationship with Christ. This is certainly true.

My favorite interpretation of this passage came from a podcast I heard a few years ago, where the commentator said that maybe what Jesus was telling Martha was “I just came to hang out with you, and I’d be happy eating pizza on paper plates. No need for all this fancy stuff, I just want to hang out.” Obviously, this is a metaphorical interpretation. There wasn’t pizza or paper plates back in Jesus’ time. However, the point is that the needful thing when someone comes to visit is not the food but the fellowship and conversation and sometimes we forget that. Metaphorically, many times we are worrying about “fine China” when paper plates will really be sufficient.

Imagine being the host of a party and being so stressed out about everything that when the party happened, you didn’t enjoy the guests or any of the event. And this is what seems to be happening in our world more and more. We are so concerned with our busy-ness that we don’t really seem to enjoy much of anything.

Allow me to take this one different direction, concerning needful things. We make time for things that are important to us. There has NEVER been a day that I was too busy to brush my teeth. No matter what is going on, I always find the two minutes each morning to do that. Even when I rush out to a hospital in the middle of the night for an emergency, I always delay two minutes to brush my teeth, that’s how important that is. I never forget to put on deodorant, or get dressed, or to grab my phone.

Yet there are days I don’t set aside much time to pray, or read the Bible. Like Martha, I sometimes forget the needful thing which is my relationship with Christ. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:33, to “seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” In other words, line up the day with Christ at the head and everything else will fall into place. I can’t imagine what it would be like to not brush my teeth in the morning. I would feel disgusting all day, I’d be afraid to open my mouth in public. Brushing the teeth sets the tone for if I will speak and interact for the day. “Brushing the soul” with prayer and Scripture reading sets the tone for how we will speak and interact for the day. And if we can interject prayer and Scripture into our lives each day, that might just let enough air out of our busy-ness balloon that we can get some more happiness in there as well.

Have mercy on me, O God. Have mercy on me.
I lie as an outcast before Your gate, O Savior. In my old age cast me not down empty into hell; but, before the end comes, in Your love grant me remission of sins. (Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, Ode One, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)

All of our busy-ness doesn’t seem to be getting us happiness. And that’s because we forget the needful thing, the thing that calms us, that brings things into perspective. That is God, that is prayer. Be intentional about the needful things and that will bring the busy-ness into more balance. Have a GREAT (better than ok) day!


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. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced multiple books, you can view here:


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