I was one of those kids who went to Sunday school for years and learned a few bible stories along the way. And there’s one story that has always stuck with me – perhaps because my mother always said it was the one time that Jesus got it wrong. It’s the story of Mary and Martha. Please excuse my ignorance of the finer details but it goes something like this:
Jesus went round to Mary and her sister Martha’s place for dinner. While Martha ran round tidying up, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to his stories. At this point Martha, presumably red-faced and up to her elbows in washing-up liquid, shouted at Mary for not helping. To which Jesus replied that it was Mary who was the righteous one and that Martha should just chill out.
You can see why this story makes women the world over feel indignant. Why should Mary get all the credit when she was being lazy and leaving her sister with all the work? If Martha didn’t do the work, no-one would and the place would be dirty and they wouldn’t have any dinner. Marthas are jealous of Marys – wishing they could sit down and listen too but feel unable to with all the work that needs doing. Marys are typically fun but irresponsible – the ones who drink too much wine and leave friends to sort the cab home.
I’ve thought hard about this – did Jesus just get it wrong because he quite fancied Mary (I’m desperately trying not to stray into blasphemy here)? This is what I’d always thought, but then I thought again. The fact is we ALL want to be Marys really, and live without worries and stresses, and enjoy the good stuff. So what I think Jesus was probably saying was that you don’t HAVE to run round like a blue-arsed fly all the time. You shouldnt busy your mind with inconsequential things like washing and tidying and who’s turn it is to put the rubbish out, when bigger issues are at stake. You should free your mind from little things and concentrate on what really counts.
I was asking my mother – a staunch believer that Martha was in the right – about this recently and she told me the perfect story that confirmed my thoughts. Years ago, her and some friends were staying in a cottage and on the last night, they had to tidy up. However one of the friends left the other two cleaning and went out to watch the sunset. When she came back asking what she could do to help, the other two had finished the work and were angry. My mum thought this friend was selfish and lazy not to help. But it seemed screamingly obvious to me – why didn’t you all go see the sunset? Surely it would have been nicer for you all to sit and watch the sunset with a glass of wine, knowing you could all tidy up later on or the next morning. You’d always remember the sunset, and enjoying it together, not the floor-scrubbing. And instead of resenting the sunset-watcher, you’d be all in it together.
I think that if you have the habit of being a Martha (a martyr for less conscientious friends or partners, the one who always does the washing up, gets the bill, remembers mother’s day flowers) why don’t you try and be a bit more like Mary sometimes. If you don’t feel like doing the dishes – don’t do them, and see what happens – nothing right? Or if you have a friend who always leaves you to buy the rounds or order the cabs, why don’t you just ask them to do it and sit back and enjoy the night? And if you’re a Mary – good on you, but maybe try to be aware of how your actions affect other people and make sure that sometimes you’re the one who is responsible and sensible.
We could all do with chilling out and slowing down a bit more, and remembering what’s important. And as a ganga-growing Canadian hippie I met in Fiji once told me: “Remember, every sunset is a gift…”.
* or conversely, a Harry or an Arthur?