As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed — or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  (Luke 10:38-42)

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was served in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of her perfume.  (John 12:1-3)


“Something sure smells good!”

It’s music to my ears when dinner guests make that observation just after coming in the front door. It means that what I’m getting ready to serve is likely to please them. I always try to make our meals appetizing, but when company comes, I ratchet up the effort.

I know where Martha is coming from. She offered her home to Jesus and His disciples. Hospitality was very important in Jewish culture, and was never taken lightly. Only the best you could offer was good enough. There was absolutely no sending out for pizza!

If Jesus was no ordinary guest, Mary was no ordinary hostess. Everything in her experience would teach her to get cracking to help Martha prepare and serve the food. When Mary looked at Jesus, she saw Someone so compelling that far from hurrying, she stopped and dropped at His feet. He was teaching, and she hung on every word. Instead of preparing to feed Him, she prepared to be fed by Him. She seemed to understand that an extraordinary opportunity called for an extraordinary response. She didn’t worry about what anyone else thought; she gave Jesus her undivided attention. As it turned out, she did the one thing that was needed.

Much later, after Jesus had raised her brother Lazarus from the dead, there was another dinner. Martha was still in the kitchen, but this time she wasn’t complaining about her sister. Mary again did the unexpected: she poured a perfume worth a year’s wages over Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. Judas tried to raise a stink about it, but Jesus validated her act of devotion, and the whole house was filled with the fragrance.

We live in a different time and culture, but things haven’t changed much.

We get worried and upset by many things: our real and perceived responsibilities, how we look in the eyes of others, what others think of us. We may feel resentful when those around us don’t meet our expectations of them, or don’t buy into our expectations of ourselves.

Jesus still says only one thing is needed: to sit at His feet; to learn from Him; to be loved and affirmed by Him; to be in real relationship with Him. Giving our hearts, minds, time and energy to Him makes all the other aspects of our lives fall into their proper place

Mary chose not to squander the precious presence of Jesus. She gave her full attention to Him, and not her “to do” list. She gave first priority to satisfying her hunger for His Word, and not worrying about a meal she could help prepare later. Significantly, no one is reported to have starved as a result!

Mary chose the one thing that was needed in that moment, and not the many things that were expected.

Later, Mary chose to pour out her most valuable worldly possession at Jesus’ feet. She gave what she owned because He owned her heart, and all other things paled in comparison.

“Only one thing is needed.” That’s one thing I need to remember and repeat to myself often.

Only one thing.

Only Jesus.


Lord, in the moments jam-packed with things I think I should do, help me remember the one thing that’s needed: to sit at Your feet, calmed by Your presence, hearing Your voice. Even when I forget to stop and listen first, thank You that it’s never too late to stop and listen second. May the good smells in our home always be the sweet fragrance of devotion to You. Amen.