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Relationship Trumps Performance

Martha 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.

Luke 10:39-40

Mushrooms stuffed with cheese and sausage. Dates wrapped in bacon. Sliced cucumbers topped with a smoked trout pate. Rosemary flatbread with blue cheese and grapes, then drizzled with honey. Deviled eggs with cornichons and fennel fronds. The list was extensive and extravagant, but I was up to the task. The centerpiece would be an entire poached salmon served with a fresh dill sauce, red onion, and capers.

The list of attendees we invited to our biannual Christmas open house had grown significantly over the years, thus ensuring that our home would be packed. Luckily, warm temperatures were predicted, which would allow for overflow into our screened-in porch.

With the cold hors d'oeuvres strategically placed around the house, I began working on the hot dishes just as guests began to arrive. The apple cider—accented with cinnamon sticks—provided an enticing aroma as it heated on the stove, drawing visitors to congregate around the kitchen island.

As our home began to fill up, I found it harder and harder to stick to my plan. People were everywhere! Opening the doors of my double oven became an NFL maneuver as I ducked and twirled and forced my way to the goal. Every time I successfully presented another tasty treat, I returned to find my kitchen overrun with guests who blocked my next move.

Had Jesus been one of my guests, I would have turned to him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that all these people are making it difficult for me to do my work? Tell them to get out of my way!” I’d like to think that he would have accommodated my request, but based on Luke 10:41-42, I suspect Jesus would have responded like this: “Michelle, Michelle, you are distracted by many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.”

When Martha complained to Jesus that her sister Mary wasn’t helping her in the kitchen, Jesus said something similar. “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.”

Granted, Jesus was not one of my guests, so I didn’t have the option of sitting at his feet like Mary did. However, there was a better choice, but I didn’t take it. Like Martha, I chose to focus on “doing” rather than “being,” on myself rather than others, on performance rather than relationship.

Jesus’ ministry was all about relationship. Though twelve chosen apostles made up his inner circle, hundreds of others were also touched by his charisma. One might say people followed him around because they wanted to see miracles performed, but I believe it was because he made everyone he encountered feel special. He met with Nicodemus in the dead of night (John 1-15). He fed thousands of people twice (Mark 6:35-44 and 8:1-10). He rescued an adulteress woman from stoning (John 8:3-11), healed a centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5-13), and forgave the sins of multiple individuals, including a sinful woman (Luke 7:44-48). I’d follow him around, too!

Jesus had a way of giving each person he encountered his full attention. He wasn’t concerned about the meal, the atmosphere, what people were wearing, or whether they washed their hands. He was concerned about THEM.

This is not something I was doing well at that Christmas party, nor does our culture value this in practice. We are distracted by activity. We bury our heads in our cell phones, get caught up in our sports teams, and bring our work home with us. Instead of asking our friends how we can pray for them, we gossip about the guy at work. Instead of making eye contact with our spouse, we yell at him from another room. Instead of playing with our children, we sit them in front of the TV. There is a plethora of distractions to choose from, and we take full advantage of them all.

Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians, “Don’t do anything only to get ahead. Don’t do it because you are proud. Instead, be humble. Value others more than yourselves. None of you should look out just for your own good. Each of you should also look out for the good of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

So, my plan for Thanksgiving this year is to make my guests feel loved and special beyond the food I serve. I’ll still make a delicious and memorable (borderline extravagant) meal, but everything will be cooked and in the warmer when my guests arrive. With cooking on the back burner, I’ll be able to give each guest my full attention—just like Jesus gives us. “So, whether you eat or drink (or cook!) or whatever you do, to it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:33). And be thankful.

THE SONG THAT COMES TO MIND is Full Attention by Jeremy Riddle

Lyrics: “Please keep my eyes fixed on You. Please root my heart so deep in You.”

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