Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a theory on how human’s prioritize their lives. Essentially, Maslow teaches that if we want to fulfill the needs at the top of the pyramid, we have to make sure the needs below it are met first. For instance, a high school student is not going to prioritize her self esteem if she does not have consistent access to food. Without touching on the merits of the theory, it serves as a great way to explain how followers of Jesus should see their lives.
Luke 10:38-42 tells of when Jesus enters the home of some of his closest disciples, Mary and Martha. Jesus uses their home as a place to teach. Martha begins to serve everyone in the house, she is throwing the party. Her sister, Mary, taking the place normally reserved only for men, is sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to him. Martha is exhausted, stressed, overcome with serving, and she asks Jesus to command her sister to help. Jesus’ response is telling, ” “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” Jesus is adding one layer to the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid.
Jesus’ words are comforting, confounding and challenging all at the same time. As God, he is not giving an opinion, he’s stating a fact. He created us, after all. In our lives, there is only one necessary thing. Mary, not Martha, chose it. She was spending time with Jesus. This is the one needed thing in all of our lives. This and nothing else.
Jesus’ words are comforting because one day we are going to stand in front of him and give an account of our lives. If the only thing I need to do is figure out is how to have a daily relationship with him, that’s doable. He said that the weight he places on his followers is light. In a world that constantly demands more from us, people in constant need of self-improvement, to ask this one simple request is freeing.
On the other hand, Jesus’ words are confounding because in a world that clearly has gone astray from every ideal, there is so much work that needs to be done. Don’t we need to raise our children, love our spouses, feed the starving, heal the sick, raise the orphans, stop nuclear war and save the whales? How is anyone going to be helped when Jesus followers turn inward, reflective and prioritize praying? And yet, didn’t Jesus teach that without him, we can do nothing? The church is busy doing everything else except developing this private intimacy with Jesus. Perhaps, the church’s impotency to provide deep, lasting change is rooted in our inability to connect daily with him.
Finally, Jesus’ words are challenging because building my life around devotion to him is foolish. Wouldn’t we be disappointed with our kids’ lives if all they did with their 90 years was learn to pray and meditate on Jesus’ teachings? Don’t we want them to go to college, get married, buy home, and make some positive impact on the world? When we ask someone what they do, we mean their job not their devotional life. Most days, we barely have energy to sincerely pray once during the day, let alone numerous times. The challenge is to learn to stop doing the good in our lives, so we can start doing the one necessary thing.
Maslow was right. There are basic, primal needs in all of us that if unmet will make prioritizing more sophisticated needs impossible. As created beings our most basic need, before food, before clothes, before breathing, is to be in communion with our creator. Jesus continues to stand at the door of our hearts and knock. Letting him in, daily, should be the priority of our lives.