Thoughts on One Thing and All Things

By Sharron R. Blezard, July 11, 2010

Lectionary Reflection

8th Sunday after Pentecost

July 18, 2010

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.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.

Luke 10:40-42a

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1:19-20

As an English teacher, I’ve never considered the word “thing” a favorite vocabulary choice. In fact, the exhaustive and imprecise employment of this monosyllabic noun by students (and folks who know better) can drive a grammarian or wordsmith nuts. “I have things to do.” O.K., what things? “Many things about Paul remain unclear.” Might you be a bit more specific, please? As certainly as Paul had a thorn in his flesh, the overuse of “thing” is one of mine. That said, I would like to confess that this week’s gospel and epistle reading have me looking at this humble word in new light.

Just take a look at the many dictionary definitions of the word “thing.” For a one syllable word, this noun packs some punch, referring to everything from “an inanimate object” to “anything that is or may become an object of thought.” It can name a task or a living being or creature. In law it can mean “anything that may be the subject of property right,” and if one lives in a Scandinavian country “thing” can refer to “a public meeting or assembly.” The word’s origin is found in the Old Norse word for “assembly” and is related to the Goth word theihs, or “time.” That’s a lot of mileage and meaning for one diminutive word. Perhaps I have been too harsh on its most visible presence in mediocre high school and college essays.

After all, in this week’s readings “thing” and “things” turn out to be important words in the overall scope of the lessons. In the gospel reading Jesus is visiting the house of Mary and Martha. Martha is working diligently to see that proper hospitality is extended to their esteemed guest, while Mary assumes the role of disciple by planting herself in rapt attention at the feet of the teacher. This is too much for Martha, who we assume is trying to put forth a feast and rightfully needs her sister’s assistance. She tries to enlist Jesus’ support in getting Mary back on hospitality duty, but Jesus has other “things” in mind. Here the meaning becomes a little less clear—sort of like student essays. Is the “one thing” that Jesus refers to in verse 42 simply a reference to a less elaborate meal, i.e. throw it all in the slow cooker and come sit down, or does the “one thing” refer to something more? Well, in a word, yes. Some scholars point to the hospitality angle; they feel that Jesus is telling Martha to quit running around and keep the meal simple with only a few choices, or even one. Other sources point to the “one thing” as equal to the “better part” that is Mary’s choice in listening to Jesus.

Aha, the one thing can be both the singular, important act of focusing on Jesus and the process of simplifying our overburdened lifestyles. Sounds like a stewardship issue to me. It’s a whole lot easier to run around fretting and fuming over any number of things than it is to have a single-minded focus on what really matters. Like Mary understood, choosing the “one thing” involves putting all things, including pretenses, social acceptability, and duty aside.

Now fast forward to Colossians. Here we have a description of Jesus as the “one thing” who will restore not just some things but “all things.” The Greek word here is “ta panta” meaning all things, as in the entire cosmos, all of creation being restored to God’s original creative intent. Yes, Jesus is the “one thing” who is “all things” and who in that role will restore “all things.” Therefore, we need to put aside “all things” that distract us from focusing on the “one thing” that really matters and on the One in whom all things move and breathe. Yes, it seems that all things will meet in Christ–in divine time.

However you choose to approach the texts for the eighth Sunday after Pentecost, I hope you now have a few “things” to think about. Who would have thought that one small word could be so large on meaning?

Photos courtesy of seeks2dream,, and Tim Patterson and are used through a Creative Commons License. Thank you!

About the Author

The Rev. Sharron Riessinger Blezard is an ELCA pastor currently rostered in the Lower Susquehanna Synod. She came to ordained ministry after teaching secondary and college English, working in non-profit management and public relations, and moonlighting as a freelance writer. See more posts by .

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  1. Hi,Sharron,
    You’ve given me lots of things to think about such as what things distract us, worry us, concern us, etc. and what one thing is needful.

    Great job on this text!

    Blessings in Christ and VBS is going very well,
    Gary Schimmer

  2. Forgive me, Sharron! Although I’m also an English teacher, please consider Jesus as the “thing” in this text. Otherwise the passage becomes just another lesson on morality–at least not moralism! BTW, the literal word translated “better” by so many is actuality “good”, like “And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone'” (Luke 18:19). All the comparisons–doing versus being, action versus contemplation–as good, right, and salutary as they may be, “distract” from the ultimate Thing in this text. More than anything, I like the “take” that considers Jesus on his way to Jerusalem not distracted by all which that entails and, instead, taking time for those for whom he came. Reminds of a camp song which I think I’ll share with the children: “Love him in the morning when you see the sun a-risin’. Love him in the evening ’cause he takes you through the day. And in the in-between times when you see the pressures comin’, remember that he loves you and he promises to stay!” Now that’s keeping the Main Thing the main thing. Thanks for all you are and do!

  3. Thanks for your good comments, Kelly. I especially like the song lyrics!

  4. Thanks, Gary! Our world offers many distractions, doesn’t it? Thank goodness Jesus is the light to which we may look.

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