A Scripture Reflectionoriginally published on my church's website (here modified) Texts: Psalms 28-29 & Luke 10:1-42
Yahweh's voice is powerful, Yahweh's voice is majestic (Ps 29:4); it strikes with flashes of lightning (v. 7), it twists the oaks and strips the forests bare,and in his temple all cry "Glory!" (v. 9).
This is the same voice Mary couldn’t resist to sit and listen to, probably breaking unspoken norms about the place of women in her culture. Mary sits at the Master's feet, listening to him. And that, the Lord seems to be saying, is what matters most.
"Few things are needed," he says, "indeed, only one" (v. 42). I'm not sure exactly what he means here, but it's clear that he’s putting things into perspective. He’s putting all Martha’s concerns into perspective. Yes, we have to eat and make preparations and much else. But let’s not be so anxious, so consumed with these things, or we might miss weightier things going on around us, and the gift of life itself.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. So let’s sit with Mary at the Lord’s feet a little longer trying to put things into perspective for ourselves. In what world can the Lord say that few things are needed? Certainly not in Martha’s world. How about in ours? In what world are few things needed, and how so?
Well, in our Father’s world. In the world that God created with delight and which he gave us to care for. You see, at the beginning it was as simple as it was glorious. There was no culture to tell us what it all meant. It was our task to make culture, to make something of the world. The animals didn’t even have names! Imagine that. A world bursting with potential for meaning and life. It was like play-dough in children’s hands. The possibilities virtually endless.
The only precedent, the only frame of reference we had, was God himself: what he had done, and what he had said to do. Be fruitful and multiply, he said, fill the earth and subdue it (Gen 1:28). We were the very image and likeness of God, his children, well equipped to continue the work he began. I think what matters most then as now is God's intentions for the work of his hands. What we pray is true: As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Deeply true.
Yahweh created the world out of love for life, he loved us into being and sustains us in his love. You can hear his delight in Genesis 1 as he looks at what he’s making, stage by stage, and says: Oh, this is good... very good. You can see his heart clearly after the flood when he promises "never again" to judge the earth like this (Gen 8:21-22). You can hear it in the prophets, in the psalms, you can see it on the cross. He’s deeply committed to us. He made us to be his intimate allies in the making of this world. And he hasn't given up on it. It’s happening. And the host of heaven watch in awe. Few things are needed because he’s with us. He’s with us to guide us in his ways, to forgive us, to provide for us, to answer when we cry for help, to make a way when there’s no way. What matters most is his will, his intentions, his desire, his delight. And what delights him ought to be our delight. Because what delights him gives us life. Because what delights him is our life. He is our life.
Notes and Sources 1. The initial Scripture quotation from Psalm 29 is a combination of renderings from the NIV, NLT and the New Jerusalem Bible. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the NRSV. All emphases in biblical texts are mine, of course.
2. Regarding the cultural background of Luke's text, see Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone, 2nd ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 130. I say that Yahweh’s voice is Jesus’ voice not because they are the same person but because the Son of God is the Father's representative par excellence: so much so that when we see the Son, we see the Father (cf. John 14:8–11). I elaborate on my current understanding of God's oneness in Life in the Spirit.
3. I started thinking in terms of “what matters most” here after seeing Tom Wright render Luke 10:42 “Only one thing matters,” which made sense to me in this context (Luke for Everyone, p. 130).
4. On culture making, see Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013). To go deeper into it, see Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (New York: Anchor, 1967).
5. The prayer "As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever" is part of a doxology from the Book of Common Prayer (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).
6. On my point about God's creating us out of love, see J. Richard Middleton, “Creation Founded in Love: Breaking Rhetorical Expectations in Genesis 1:1–2:3,” in Sacred Text, Secular Times: The Hebrew Bible in the Modern World, ed. Leonard Jay Greenspoon and Bryan F LeBeau (Omaha NE: Creighton University Press, 2000); and Middleton, “From Primal Harmony to a Broken World: Distinguishing God’s Intent for Life from the Encroachment of Death in Genesis 2–3,” in Earnest: Interdisciplinary Work Inspired by the Life and Teachings of B. T. Roberts, ed. Andrew C. Koehl and David Basinger (Eugene: Pickwick, 2017).