Dangerous Distractions

You might have heard in the news about the giant lifelike 3D cat on a billboard in Tokyo, attracting fans from around the country and even worldwide. If you have never seen it, search on the web for the “giant 3d cat in Tokyo,” and you will find reports about it. (Don’t do it now until after this message.) During the pandemic, this giant cat served as a source of anxiety relief for people living in Tokyo.

Humans love dogs because they are faithful, and we love cats because they are graceful. We love them maybe because they quench our thirst for faith and grace in this fallen world. Cats can also teach us something about balancing rest, play, and work.

Jesus wants us to observe nature and learn how to live a balanced life. For example, he asks us to look at the birds of the air and flowers of the field to appreciate their beauty and learn from them how not to worry about life and how God constantly provides them.

As you may already know, Japan loves cats—they invented Hello Kitty, started Cat Cafés, and even established a Zen temple for cats. Some monks believe cats personified the Zen spirit because they know how to achieve maximum effect with minimum effort. They avoid confrontation, but when they must fight, they fight like Bruce Lee, knocking off their opponents in the shortest time possible.

Sleeping about 16 hours a day, cats may appear lazy, but they can concentrate every bit of energy on a single task with laser focus. You will agree that cats are highly efficient if you have seen documentaries from Discovery, National Geographic, or Animals channels about how the feline family functions.

Their bodies are like liquid, but they can suddenly turn into powerful fighting machines to attack and even seriously injure an enemy ten times their size. So, they possess both humility and vitality, serenity and fortitude. Most importantly, their efficiency comes from focusing on a single task.

As humans, we can improve our health and wholeness by focusing on one task at a time. Distraction can cause anxiety. Anxiety, in turn, can cause distraction. So, it’s a vicious cycle. If you can focus on one thing, you will be highly efficient and able to maintain your mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

In today’s scripture lesson, Jesus warned one of his best friends, Martha, about the distraction that had driven her crazy. She was showing symptoms of chronic anxiety that could ruin her sanity and relationship with her sister and others, including Jesus. Jesus said,

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” (Lk 10:41–42a).

Jesus diagnosed that Martha’s anxiety comes from being distracted by many things and prescribed the solution by asking her to focus on one thing. The problem is, how do we choose the one thing to focus on when we have a thousand options on our plate in this busy world?

When we study the context, we discover that Jesus was not talking about any one thing but the one thing that keeps us on the right path and maintains our sanity and well-being. Today we will explore this one thing from the scripture lesson so we can also lead a healthy and happy life. Let’s begin!

[Hi! In case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone—the Lightkeeper. You are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you, and you are satisfied in God.]

The scripture lesson for today is from the Gospel according to Luke 10:38-42. [Listen to the Word of the Lord.]

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38–42).

[This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!]

Many people sympathize with Martha thinking her reaction was reasonable. It reminds me of my grandma. When she got busy, everyone got scolded. I got nervous when she got busy, especially when I didn’t know how to help her because if I did something that wasn’t helpful, it would make her busier, and I got yelled at even more.

Grandma belonged to a generation that expected everyone to know what they should do instinctively without being told. Sometimes she would give me a hint, and I was supposed to know what she meant. To her disappointment, I was a little dense when it came to reading her hinting gestures.

So, I can fully understand Martha’s sentiment. She didn’t even talk to her sister but to Jesus instead. It seemed to mean that, even if Mary was dense, Jesus should have known better and instructed her to get up and help.

Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” (Luke 10:40b).

Her statement shows some severe symptoms of anxiety. First, she blamed Jesus for her problem. “Lord, do you not care ….” She sounded exactly like my grandma. When she got busy, even the guests didn’t get away unscorched. For those who have read the Bible, we know this family’s relationship with Jesus was very special. So, Martha must be talking to Jesus like a family member and not as a guest.

Still, this story tells us about a pitfall with service. We thought that, by serving others, we gain the right to boss over them. In any organization, we often see people who work the hardest become intoxicated by the power that comes with their service. It’s a pitfall we must avoid. Otherwise, we might think we can even tell God what to do because of our service.

Martha was doing the right thing by providing hospitality to Jesus and the guests. Hospitality is a hidden commandment in the Bible, and God takes it very seriously. So, Martha was doing what God loves to see. Her problem was not doing the wrong thing but abusing the privilege she gained from doing the right thing.

When I was living in Flushing, New York, we lived next to a botanical garden. At one point, the garden stocked a large pile of fertilizers that made the entire neighborhood stink. Someone in the community organized a protest against the borough, which we didn’t know about.

The next day, he came knocking on the doors of our building and scolded everyone for not joining him in speaking up. His harsh words were counterproductive. Everyone was grateful for his leadership, but they were all turned off by his attitude.

We see this phenomenon in our government too. I remember those days when I took my parents to the immigration office in Newark and got yelled at for simply asking some questions. They were supposed to be “civil servants,” but they behave like dictators.

That’s how dictators are formed. They began with good intentions and faithful service but gradually became corrupted by the power they gained through their service. Vladimir Putin might be able to tell us how much sacrifice he had made to earn the right to be the dictator.

Another symptom of stress in Martha’s statement is that she instructed Jesus to tell her sister instead of telling her herself. “Tell her then to help me,” she told Jesus. That’s called triangulation—a dangerous behavior.

For example, if a member of the family has something against another member, and she tells a third person to convey information to the other, that’s called triangulation. That’s what Martha did. Triangles are very strong, and constant triangulations could destroy a family, an organization, a community, or even a country.

One smart thing we can do is not to accept triangulations. Jesus didn’t turn around and convey Martha’s word to Mary. If he did, it would further facture Matha and Mary’s relationships. Jesus could have said, “Tell her yourself,” but he wanted to address the root problem rather than merely stopping the triangulation.

Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42).

Luke was a little vague in telling this story, leaving a lot of gaps for interpretation. What is the one thing Jesus was talking about? Many people thought the “one thing” was sitting there listening to Jesus’ teaching like Mary did, as if it was more important to worship than to serve.

The correct interpretation is in the context. The entire chapter 10 is about hospitality, beginning with Jesus sending out 70 people to bring the good news to the towns that provided them hospitality. Then Jesus taught the Great Commandment and told the story of the Good Samaritan as an example of loving your neighbor as yourself.

In that context, we can see the “one thing” Jesus was talking about was the Great Commandment. The Good Samaritan was busy traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. We know he was busy because the next day, he went on his journey without waiting for the recovery of the wounded man.

Despite his busyness, he didn’t forget the “one thing”—to love his neighbor as himself. It’s also an example of hospitality on the road. The man was not his neighbor living next door to his home. That means you don’t have to be home to provide hospitality. Every human being is your neighbor.

Like the Good Samaritan, Martha was busy, but she forgot the “one thing,” the primary reason for her hospitality. Without that one thing, her hospitality became counterproductive as she offended her sister and her special guest, Jesus.

We know Jesus’ entire mission is to restore relationships, and all his teachings center on loving God and loving people. So, when you neglect relationships, you miss everything. The Good Samaritan story also reveals that relationships must be the priority in everything we do. So the “one thing” is keeping relationships as your priority.

Jesus said that Martha forgot the “one thing” because she was distracted by many things, but Mary was able to keep it together. The distracted Martha wants to distract her sister. Just like the saying, “misery loves company.” But, Jesus didn’t allow the virus to spread and stopped her right there.

So, based on the context, Jesus was not saying Mary did the right thing, or Martha did the wrong thing. Both of them were providing hospitality in their own way. Mary provided hospitality with her ears and Martha with her hands. The difference is Mary didn’t lose her composure.

How do you avoid losing your composure when your beloved sister recruits you to join her misery? If I were Mary, I might feel a little agitated and want to get up immediately, follow Martha to the kitchen, and get busy. If she did, she would become an enabler of Martha’s addiction to power and privilege.

We can learn three things from this story to maintain our equanimity or composure.

1. Clarify Your Priority

Life gives us many choices. It’s not easy to set our priorities without divine guidance. In the context of this lesson, Jesus makes it easy for us to decide on our priorities: love God and love people—nothing more and nothing less. That’s the one thing Jesus repeatedly reminded us of.

No matter how busy we are or come hell or high water, we must not compromise our priorities. The Great Commandments give us equilibrium at times of confusion. Whenever we feel pulled in many directions, just answer this question: what should I do to love God and love people?

If Martha had asked this question, her stress would have gone away, and she wouldn’t make the mistake of letting her anxiety out. She might politely ask Mary to help her or find another solution. So, make the Great Commandment your priority and don’t compromise it.

2. Stay Humble

If we were like Martha providing service and hospitality, we must remember to stay humble. Service makes us proud. Then how do we serve and stay humble? Jesus set an example for us by washing his disciples’ feet.

So, go all the way in with your service, and don’t expect anything in return. Don’t even accept people’s praise for your service because you can lose your grounding when you take credit for your good deeds. It’s not easy to stay humble, especially when you have done many great works.

The best way to stay humble is to learn from Jesus. He said,

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt 11:29).

When Jesus said this, he was inviting the busy people to come and learn from him.

3. Don’t Please Everyone

Don’t confuse pleasing people with loving people. You might ask, “Isn’t it a deed of love for Mary to get up and help her sister?” We need some wisdom to know the difference. A rule of thumb is being aware of your anxiety. When you are pulled by peer pressure or people pressure, you get anxiety; when you are pulled by God’s principles, you get peace.

Jesus was uncompromising in his priority. At this moment, Jesus was on his final journey to Jerusalem. He wanted to stop by the Samaritan villages on the way to deliver his message of reconciliation, but they rejected him because his priority was to go to Jerusalem to fulfill his mission.

But they (Samaritans) did not receive him because his face was set toward Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:53).

The Samaritans wanted to own Jesus and didn’t want to share him with the Jews. It was somewhat flattering, but Jesus did not compromise his priority to pressure. It means your single-mindedness on God-given priority may offend some people, but you must know that you cannot please everyone. Don’t confuse pleasing people with loving people.

There we have it. Three things we can do to maintain our well-being:

1. Clarify Your Priority

2. Stay Humble

3. Don’t Please Everyone

That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound happiness.

Amen! Bye now!

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