Prioritizing Our Distractions

The phrase “being on the right side of history” has become increasingly popular today. Often it is used as a tactic for persuading people to align with a popular opinion on controversial topics. Western civilization as a whole seems increasingly consumed by this idea of ensuring history judges them rightly, so they are willing to adopt an ideology of acceptance for nearly any type of behavior, idea or decision with the only condition being it does not cause harm to anyone. In essence, no harm, no problem. Given this, it often seems as though this age will be known as the Age of Acceptance, but in reality, it will probably be best know as the Age of Distraction. 

Most of us are likely familiar with the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. The Geneva Bible describes Martha as being “cumbered about by many things” (Luke 10:40) or in the modern vernacular, Martha was distracted. Most of us are familiar with the typical application of this passage. We are told to be more like Mary and less like Martha or some of us are like Martha and some of us are like Mary. In most cases, Mary is often held in high regard for she was the one sitting at the feet of Jesus to learn more about God. In all honesty, if most us were asked which option was best, either learning from Jesus or doing the dishes we likely would give the Sunday School answer; choose Jesus.

Before we proceed down the path of this interpretation, consider first that Martha was never rebuked for what she was doing in being a proper host to those in her home. In fact, in the Gospel of John, it is Martha who appears to be more of a theologian than Mary, even though she was not the one who was learning at the feet of Jesus. While Mary is overcome by the grief of her brother Lazarus, Martha recognizes not only that Jesus was indeed the Christ (John 11:27), but that as a result He was able to raise Lazarus from the dead at that very moment (John 11:22). Martha knew exactly who Jesus was and thus what He had the power to do. Yet Mary, recognized Him merely as the Teacher, who also had the God-given ability to heal (John 11:32).

The application of Mary and Martha in Luke 10 is not about who should be emulated, but what should be prioritized. In the context of the church, the Apostles recognized this priority was the ministry of the Word and prayer (Acts 6:4); a priority given to them by Jesus. We can all admit there are many important aspects of ministry, but the priority set forth in Scripture is the teaching and preaching ministry of God’s Word and prayer. In the situation of Mary and Martha, the teaching of Jesus was the priority, but it did not take away from the importance of Martha’s role. Based on what we know about Martha’s theology in John 11, it was indeed Mary who needed to be at the feet of Jesus and it was the efforts of Martha which made this possible. The church needs the service of Marthas so Marys can be under the ministry of the Word.

The ministry of the Word and prayer is still the priority today, but so often we find ourselves distracted by many things which take away from this ministry. Social media, movies and television are designed to draw us in and keep us on their platforms. Watch a movie on Netflix and at the end it will automatically prompt you to start watching another. The historians of the future, if they are not distracted themselves, may describe us best with one word; distracted. 

The art of reading, meaningful conversation and critical engagement through actual debate seems to be in severe decline. One needs only to observe the landscape of modern air transportation to realize how disinterested people seem to be in reading and conversation. Prior to the digital age, a flight attendant would have observed people reading, talking amongst themselves and yes still the occasional napper. Newspapers, books and magazines filled the briefcases and purses of passengers as they planned for two to five hours or more inside a metal tube at 30,000 feet. People spoke to one another, either out of a mutual respect for one another or out of mere curiosity for the stories behind the faces of their fellow traveler. Much like its predecessor, the transoceanic ship, it represented a long period of time which needed to be filled with some sort of productive activity.

Today, commercial aviation is not merely competing for better seats and cheaper airfare, but faster internet connectivity and streaming entertainment choices during the flight. The satellite communications industry invests millions of dollars every year developing new technologies to continually improve this capability because it is in such high demand. Even the most casual observer will note that most people remain on their smartphone until cellular coverage is no longer available before switching to the aircraft’s onboard digital entertainment system and immediately back to their personal devices once the wheels touch the ground. In many ways, it appears binge watching television entertainment is the only means of passing the time. 

If the ministry of the Word takes priority, if Christ is coming again and, in the meantime, He commands us to “make disciples of all nations,” we should be consciously examining ourselves to determine whether we are making this our own priority or if we have become “cumbered about by many things.” Are we distracted by the entertainment being offered in the culture or do we take the opportunities granted to us, including our time, to engage with people in conversations which may alter their life for all of eternity. Other parts of our life and ministry are important, but if we can do only one, the ministry of the Word is essential. Will we be on the right side of God’s plan for us, as His people, called to do His work, regardless of professional occupation? Or will we be seen as distracted people who forgot the priority.

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