A Song that can Save the World
I’d like to build the world a home and furnish it with love,
Grow apple trees and honey bees and snow white turtle doves.
I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony,
I’d like to hold it in my arms and keep it company.
I’d like to see the world for once all standing hand in hand,
And hear them echo through the hills for peace throughout the land.
This popular song has a vision for our world that has yet to be realized. The songwriter, the “I” of the song, hopes to share it, and its sentiment and dream of harmony, with every human being. You and I have probably sung this song many times.
But the dream of this song, and the peace and harmony it longs for, continues to elude us. We think: If every human being would just adopt this song as their own, our world would be a better place. This is a great song, but there is only one song that has the power to save the world. Biblical Scholars have identified the verses of today’s reading from Paul’s Letter to the Colossians as one of, if not the earliest, hymns of the early church:
Jesus is the image of the invisible God/the firstborn of all creation/for in him all things in heaven and earth were created/things visible and invisible/whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers/ all things have been created through him and for him/He himself is before all things/and in him all things hold together/He is the head of the body, the church/he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead/so that he might come to have first place in everything/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.
The Letter to the Colossians was written by Paul or his secretary while he was in prison in Rome. The fashioning of these verses, in their form as a hymn, probably came later in the first or second generation after Jesus’ resurrection, 50 to 90 AD. Early witness like this can help us so much—even bring about the salvation of the whole world!
Some reflections on the words of this hymn: Jesus, the Word, existed before Creation. Creation was a free gift to us all. Jesus is the first-born of Creation. The Empires of this world exercise only a type of pseudo power in the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is where real power resides. The peace that the world longs for is made possible by the peace-making blood of Jesus on the Cross. The blood of other human beings will never be able to bring about true and lasting peace. True peace comes through the blood of Jesus’ cross, which, by the way, was the newest technological advance of the Roman Empire for killing criminals and enemies. Fear of this “technology” was responsible for the Pax Romana. This kind of fear is still used in our day!
In the Gospel this morning, we see that Martha was too busy in the kitchen to learn the meaning of this song and its absolute focus on Jesus. Martha tries to bring Jesus into the middle of her rivalry with her sister Mary. “Look Jesus, I’m doing all the work. Tell my sister to help me.” Jesus refuses to be triangulated into this rivalry or any other. “Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” Jesus refuses to enter into judgment when people attempt to get him to be “on their side.” The food and other tasks can wait. The most important thing is to give attention to Jesus. A healthy relationship with Jesus, and the peace it brings, is far better than entering into rivalry with others: I’m right, you’re wrong. Jesus is on my side. Jesus favors me and not you. This rivalry, so common, is a recipe for un-peace and stress.
The one really needful thing is to sit regularly at Jesus’ feet in prayer. Teresa of Avila defined prayer as “Frequent solitary converse with One Whom we know loves us.” Yes, we all have many tasks to be done, many good things to accomplish, but we can’t think that those tasks, however important, absolve us from coming before God in prayer, privately and corporately. We need to be “prayed up” in order to benefit most from the highest prayer of the Church: the Holy Eucharist. From the Eucharist we are sent out to serve others in Jesus’ name without being in rivalry with anyone.