“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42
I have written about this verse before (see https://wrestlingwordblog.wordpress.com/2018/09/28/one-thing/ ), but God has been showing me some different facets of this hidden treasure.
I always looked at this verse as Jesus pointing out something I was supposed to do or not do. Busyness vs. Contemplation. Works vs. Faith. I saw some kind of judgement on Martha and a holding up of Mary as an example. But is that what Jesus is really saying here?
Service and missions and doing good works are good things, aren’t they? And we are called to these, aren’t we? Prayer and study and meditation on the word are life-giving and good for the building up of the body. But what is fundamentally needed, a necessity, necessary? What can’t I live without? What gives me life and breath and holds me together? If I was paralyzed and couldn’t communicate, if I was in a coma and couldn’t hear or even think. When I die and all that I have done in this life is left behind. What is the “one thing” that is necessary? In Latin it is called the Unum necessarium, and Douglas Taylor wrote of it this way:
“It was a saying of former ages, Unum necessarium, ‘One thing is needful’, drawn from the Latin rendering of the Lord Jesus’ words to Martha in Luke 10:42, when she had shown herself ‘careful and troubled about many things’. In contrast with her care and agitation, there was actually only one thing truly necessary, and Mary had seen it and chosen it. But what was it, and what is it? Some say that it is ‘the contemplative life’, as opposed to mere activism; some take it to be salvation, some, repentance, some, regeneration, or new life in Christ. Who is right, or is the answer something else altogether?
But what is the one thing needful? What had Mary chosen to do? Surely it was to listen to Christ’s words in a serious and believing way? Surely the implication is that the one thing needful is to receive and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, as he is revealed in Holy Scripture? Those who profess to be Christians disagree on many things. Some are important. Some are not. But one thing is absolutely indispensable, and surely all sincere and genuine Christians can agree on this: Christ himself, as he is revealed in the Scriptures, is the truly indispensable One. We need him absolutely and unconditionally. We hang on him; we depend on him. We are lost without him. He is the Unum Necessarium, the ‘one thing needful’, the Rock of our salvation. If we have him, we have everything. If we do not, we have nothing. Praised be his holy Name forever that he has had mercy on us!“i
So, again, God is revealing: it’s not me. I’m not the Wonderful One. It’s not what I do or say or think or write or even how fervently I believe. It is Jesus Christ my Lord. It is Him. It all – everything – always comes back to Him. In my heart, Christ in me, the hope of glory. It is Him, what he has already done on the Cross and which cannot be outdone or added to. Christ Himself. Could that be what Jesus was saying to Martha – and to Mary? Only one thing is needed and that is Me, and Mary has figured it out? It’s Jesus, the One who will be with us and for us and in us to the end and will dance over us with joyful singing on into eternity.
You know, I always heard Jesus saying, “Martha, Martha,” shaking his head, as a gentle, but disappointed rebuke. However, recently I have learned that in the culture of Bible times, repeating the name was an expression of intimacy and affection. (See Bible.org https://bible.org/illustration/repeating-names) Think of “Abraham, Abraham” (Genesis 22:11), “Moses, Moses” (Exodus 3:4), “Simon, Simon” (Luke 22:31), “Saul, Saul” (Acts 9:4), and many more.
Maybe Jesus was not so much rebuking Martha for stressing out in doing her good service, but lovingly pointing her to the Way to do it. To dwell in him, find rest in him, to let him be strong in her and let his love do the loving through her. Pointing her, and me, and all of us, to the Unum Necessarium.
Lord, I come, I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
Without You I fall apart
You’re the One that guides my heart
Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You
(Songwriters: Christy Nockels / Daniel Carson / Jesse Reeves / Kristian Stanfill / Matt Maher)
One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple. Psalm 27:4
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:17
i Posted 13th June 2011 by Douglas Taylor http://worksworthdeclaring.blogspot.com/2011/06/unum-necessarium.html
Photo by Jack Bair