Epiphany Encounters: “The One Necessary Thing”


A sermon preached on Luke 10:38-42  by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD on February 9, 2020, the fifth Sunday of Epiphany. Part of a five-part series called, “Chosen: Five Epiphany Encounters with Jesus.”

What Would You Remember?

Continuing our “Epiphany Encounters” series, we move now to our next to last passage, sandwiched at the end of Luke 10 in the tiny village of Bethany on the outskirts of Jerusalem. This is part of Luke’s journey narrative, with Jesus leading the twelve as a wandering missionary within Israel. As they did, they would have sought out places to rest – the home of Mary and Martha was one such place of respite. It’s kind of amazing to contemplate: this passage is really about some downtime with Jesus in the context of a meal in a host home.

Had you been there, I wonder what you have remembered. Would you have remembered the meal – the course served that day, would you have remembered how tidy the home was, or would you have remembered the things Jesus’ did and said? Even for someone who loves food as much as I do, I should think it would be the latter! And that really begins to get at the heart of our passage today.

Remembering that in our Epiphany series, we’re spotlighting what each passage reveals about Jesus and the life of discipleship for men, women, and kids, we want focus in three areas this morning: the place Jesus was welcomed to, the kind of welcome Jesus received, and what Jesus had to say about it.

Welcomed Where?

38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.

Now this verse sounds quite ordinary and prosaic, but it would have unsettling for those who were there! Jesus, the master Rabbi, seeks out the home of two women. Ben Witherington notes:

“Though … women could attend synagogue, learn, and even be learned if their husbands or masters were rabbis, for a rabbi to come into a women’s house and teach her specifically is unheard of. … Thus, not only the role Mary assumes, but also the task Jesus performs in this story is in contrast to what was expected of a Jewish man and woman. (Women in the Ministry of Jesus, pg. 101)

Now this was not an isolated incident. Within the ministry of Jesus, he seeks out and calls women to be his disciples. He elevates women to a status of equality with men by calling them to himself together. Go back to Luke 8:1-3 and you’ll see this is true:

1 [Jesus] went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.”

Jesus breaks the cultural norms to reemphasize the worth of womanhood. This is so incredibly important for our women and young women here this morning. You are on the receiving end of radically contradictory messages from culture about what womanhood means – everything from modern feminism and the “Me Too” movement (much of which we can agree with as Christians) to transgenderism (which undercuts feminism and says anyone can be a woman), to Super Bowl halftime shows which utterly degrade womanhood (and, by the way, expect that men should want to, too)!

This passage shows that your worth is not found in the definition of womanhood given to you by culture, but is rather, found in the call of Christ upon your life and the dignity that he bestows upon you as his disciple. That identity is central and will shape every other aspect of your life!

Two Kinds of Welcome

39 And [Martha] had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 

Barclay says here, “It would be harder to find more vivid character drawing in greater economy of words than we find in these verses.” (The Gospel of Luke, pg. 144) Martha was probably the elder sister and so she did what was expected of her. You know, that would have been a day with a lot to get done. Think about what goes on in your house when you’re welcoming guests and then think about this: these two women were welcoming at least thirteen hungry men into their home for the day!

Verse 40 says that Martha was distracted with much serving. Literally, “she was dragged around.” You know the scene here – one person is sitting around watching the NFL while the other does the dishes. One person is glued to MLB while the other mops the floors. One person is mesmerized by the NBA game while other cleans the bathroom – and maybe they clean it a little louder just for effect.

Finally, Martha has the gall to involve Jesus, asking him to get Mary up and going! In her rush, what she has failed to see is this: “Martha is burdened with one type of hospitality and Mary is absorbed in another.” (Luke 9:51-24:53 by Arthur Just, pg. 458)

Here Mary is described as sitting at the Lord’s feet. That is a beautiful picture. She was there, in the one place that mattered, with the rest of disciples, soaking up every word.

It’s been said that Luke’s Gospel, particularly, was written for disciples who were being instructed in the faith. Think about how powerful this scene would have been for them. Arthur Just writes, “The [disciple] ‘shows hospitality’ when he [or she] faithfully receives the Word of God.” (Luke 9:51-24:53, pg. 458).

So many young women concern themselves primarily with finding the right person in their life – finding “Mr. Right.” I hope the parents won’t mind if I say this to our young women this morning: do not be overly concerned with finding the right person, but instead give attention to becoming the right person. And Mary is your example in this. She had great love for the Lord. Remain at his feet, and everything else you need will be provided for.

The Good Portion: Jesus

And this is the Epiphany word in this passage, revealing who Jesus truly is.

41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

The word used for “portion” (μερίς) can refer to a serving of food. So, in saying that Mary had chosen the “good portion,” Jesus was likely contrasting the serving chosen by Mary with the serving of food that was being prepared by Martha for Jesus and the disciples. What is the good portion? No – who is good portion? Jesus himself and his word.

The issue here,” is Arthur Just, “Is whether one is first to serve the Lord or first to be served by him. This is really a question of the proper approach to worship. Mary has the right liturgical theology. She sits at the feet of Jesus to receive divine service from him. … The posture in which one receives Jesus’ divine service is not the busyness of human doing, but the stillness of listening to the words of Jesus. Faith is the highest worship.” (Luke 9:51-24:53, pg. 459)

Brothers and sisters we must remember this: true formation into Christ’s image isn’t to be equated with mere busyness.


Every fundamental discipline of the Christian life (Scripture, prayer, and worship) is really just about receiving more of Jesus that we might then rise to turn and serve others in him.

This is important, because there is this idea floating around in the church (broadly speaking) that we shouldn’t come to church to be served. That’s baloney! You come here to get Jesus! Of course, church is not a spectator sport and we shouldn’t come with the attitude of becoming a lake – wanting only ever to be filled – but rather a river – allowing what we have received to flow downstream to others.

Our church’s catechism beautifully speaks to this reality in the section on Justification & Sanctification.

Two excerpts:

  1. How does the Church assist in your sanctification?

The Church’s joyful worship, faithful teaching, grace-filled sacraments, Gospel-shaped calendar, compassionate ministry, loving discipline, and caring fellowship all assist my growth in Christ and are channels of God’s abundant care for my soul.

  1. How does the Lord’s Supper assist in your sanctification?

In the Lord’s Supper or Holy Eucharist, I hear the Law read, receive God’s good news of forgiveness, recall my baptismal promises, have my faith renewed, and receive the grace of the Body and Blood of Christ to continue following him in love and obedience.

This Mary saw the worth of Jesus and knew that he was the one necessary thing that day. And we may say that he is the one necessary thing of every day in the Christian life. If we want to serve with him, we must learn, more and more, day by day, to be served by him. Amen.

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