Several years ago I received an invitation to attend my brother-in-law’s wedding. He and his fiancée had picked a day in June to publicly declare their love for one another and to become united in marriage. I remember reading the invitation and telling my wife, “I won’t be able to go!”
At that time, I was a sales representative for a seasonal products company and June was our tradeshow season. Tradeshows meant long hours, weekends in hotels and plenty of travel. I would be on the road for stretches of fifteen to twenty days at a time and didn’t think I could afford to be distracted by a wedding. My priority was work, and work is important. It pays the bills and puts food on the table.
In the Gospel of Luke we are given the unique story of Mary and Martha. Martha believed she had her priorities straight. She knew there was work to be done and believed it was her responsibility to complete the tasks before her. Jesus saw things differently.
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 only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
At first it appears that Martha has a legitimate complaint against Mary. Martha is working hard, tirelessly to prepare her home for Jesus. But Mary is sitting at his feet while there is still work to be done.
Jesus hears Martha’s complaint and his response challenges her to realign her priorities. You see, Mary is listening to the Lord of lords, the King of kings! Mary understands that the work can wait. She understands that what Jesus is saying is more important than sweeping floors or preparing food. You see, Jesus was talking about what he always talked about—his father in heaven, the Kingdom of God, the wedding banquet that will never end.
Like Martha, we often place more value on action, on work, than on listening. We dive into projects designed to better our society. We clean ditches and build parks. We knit quilts and shingle houses, and these things are good, work is good, but work alone is not the Gospel.
The Gospel is the story of the Son of God, who left heaven, was tempted by Satan, and conquered. The Gospel is the story of a Savior who walked in our shoes, was crucified in our place and three days later rose from the dead, thereby removing the sting of death. The Gospel is the story of a perfect and holy God calling out to sinners who are helpless and lost in darkness. Are you listening?
Work is good, but when we place work ahead of the Good News—the fact that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, then we are in danger of missing the point. And if we miss the point, we miss the wedding banquet of the Lamb.
A few months after my brother-in-law’s wedding, a family portrait taken at the wedding appeared on the wall in my father-in-law’s home. It was a photo of great joy and celebration. I was noticeably absent from the picture. My heart sank as I looked at the photo and my priorities were realigned, but it was too late. I’d missed the wedding!
In heaven, there is a book that lists every individual invited to the wedding banquet of the Lamb and his bride. No good deed can put your name on the list; no amount of work can earn you a seat at the table. It is by faith alone that you are invited to the celebration, and faith comes from hearing the message, the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). Are you listening? He who has an ear, rejoice, for your seat in eternity awaits.