Luke 10: 38-42: The one thing needed


By Hal Green

One of the great spiritual questions is this: what does God seek from you? The likely answer: the same thing your heart seeks when you give it the freedom to express itself: direct encounter with God, the beloved. Noth­ing less than that will fully satisfy God or your hungering heart.

Hal Green

One of the most significant scriptural stories about priorities from God’s standpoint occurred between Jesus and the sisters Mary and Martha. This passage from Luke became among the most important biblical justifications for monastic life through two millennia:

“Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. However, Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ The Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her’’’ (Luke 10:38-42).


It is easy to get distracted from the most important thing. Mary no doubt followed her heart, and knew what that was: seeking the face of God. As the psalmist said: “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, LORD, do I seek (Psalm 27:6). And how do you seek the face of God? Mostly through prayer. Indirectly, you can behold the glory of God not only in your private place, but also in the heavens, on flower petals, on the faces of children and through God’s sensed presence with and in the gathered faithful. Only let the main thing remain the main thing.

There is of course both a Martha and a Mary in each of us, both a worker of good deeds and a seeker of God. While both are essential, what good is the former without being connected to the latter? Too many Christians have reduced what is most essential for their faith to works, rather than to prayer and personal connection with Christ. This is equivalent to doing things for someone they do not know and whom they may fear meeting.

Preparing a meal is important, of course. However, it is not the main thing for God. God seeks above all your turning to God with your whole heart, with your full face, facing God’s face. As best you can, do not get distracted by the demands of the moment. Be as Mary in preparation for subsequently being as Martha. Then you will know for whom you are gratefully honored to prepare a meal. Prioritize the better part, which shall not be taken from you, ever.

(Contact Hal Green, Ph.D., at

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