Archive for June 16th, 2007

The One Thing Needful

June 16, 2007


Having spent half of the last week at Sts. Mary and Martha Monastery, it is unavoidable to think about these Holy Myrrhbearers. Among those who were the first witnesses of Christ’s resurrection, these Myrrhbearing women are perhaps better known for their conversations with Christ when he visited in their home and at the time of their brother Lazarus’ death. In our encounters with them in the gospel we learn that Martha was “busy with many things” (when there’s a crowd under your roof, somebody seems to always assume Martha’s role). Mary sat at Christ’s feet. When Martha complained that her sister was not being very helpful, Christ said, “One thing is needful. Mary has chosen the better part.”

Without belaboring that particular event, the phrase, “One thing needful,” has passed on into monastic and spiritual writing in Orthodox tradition as synonymous with prayer. The one thing we must have, even if we have nothing else, is prayer. The simple reason behind this is the better part that Mary chose: prayer is choosing God Himself. God is truly the One Thing Needful. We should not and must not substitute things for God – not even things we think to be good. For nothing is good in and of itself except for God. Every other good is relative to Him Who alone is good.

I sit visiting with tomorrow’s gospel – the ending of chapter 6 of Matthew – “Seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness and all these things will be added to you as well.” It’s the same message. We need God and if we seek Him first and above all, other things will have a way of falling into place. Not that this is a key to the “American Good Life.” The Kingdom of God and its righteousness and the American Dream are not the same thing. Perhaps this reality is something that shakes the faith of many. They sought God and did not get the American Dream.

In its final analysis, that dream is a delusion. It is a substitute for God and His kingdom and as such makes itself an enemy of the gospel. I heard a Bob Dylan quote the other day which said, “The Commandment: ‘Thou shalt have no other God before me,’ is just fine if its the right God.”

The question for me today and tomorrow – and every day beyond – is always, “How do I seek God today and His righteousness?” If I can manage to ask the question honestly and not deceive myself in the answer, then it will be a good day.

One Thing Needful.