Martha and Mary


Martha’s concern is a classical thing. She was offering something to God, – doing the right thing, but not quite in the right way. That is the history of the best of us. As life goes on, we get it more and more right. We have not changed our aim, only our accuracy of aim and simplicity of desire. One can hardly undertake to say where Martha failed. She did not fail to give Jesus food. Thank God there are Marthas! Where would the world be if everyone sat at the feet of Jesus and nobody cooked!

I am not going to blame dear Martha. Possibly she was thinking a little about herself. She was fussing about Our Lord. Her anxious love just snaps. It is delightful to think of the Incarnate Word being in these charming domestic tornados! Something much worse happened at Cana. Our dear Lady does not blame anybody. She was doing the right thing in the right way, the obvious way. She was just doing it, perfectly, obviously, just as the sun gets up every morning at the right time and does not reproach the moon and stars for anything that has happened. Our dear Lady was greatly concerned about the guests and greatly concerned about her Son. She was nothing. She had her sleeves rolled up. Ordinary persons would lose their temper. Our dear Lady never lost her calm, her charm! Martha is a little concerned about herself. That is what is wrong with you and me. There is a little bias of self. ‘Oh, my beloved Master, help me to get that bias out of my soul.’ It is like a dropped stitch, easier to see than to repair.

In Martha, there is charity in action, but there is a little flaw in it. That does not rob it of its merit, but of something of its merit, and something of its charm. An imperfect act merits. Some anxious souls think that, unless they have done their best, they have done badly. Not at all. Things can be good, better or best. Because a thing is not the best, it has not fallen out of all those three categories and tumbled into the bad,—just because it has ceased to be the best. A great deal of havoc is caused in the spiritual life by possibly a subtle kind of pride. We say, ‘We might have done so-and-so.’ And because we failed to do our best, we think we have failed altogether. We might have failed to do anything at all!

There are ten thousand ways of saying the Rosary; about a thousand of them are the best ways. If you hear an ordinary ‘Garden of the Soul’ congregation saying the Rosary, it seems a perfect gabble,-a poultry-yard There is nothing very decorous or dignified about it. That’s quite good. I refuse to say that’s bad. It is better than reading The Times or the Telegraph, or a novel. It is making an act of faith and charity. Those souls are possibly praying for somebody else, – their critics perhaps, – which is an act of charity. It has not become bad because it could be better. We are not going to make it better by saying that the good is bad, oh no!

There is a little bit of self manifested in Martha’s words. Just the ‘me’ In it spoils it. Some people put ‘me’ into their words, and it helps. But some put `me’ in, and it just spoils it, like a fly on a rose.

I do not think that even Mary was doing things in the best way. But she was listening to Jesus. She was that splendid thing, a good listener, – very unusual! Possibly one of the best definitions of a good ‘prayer’ is a person who can listen well to God, who can keep quiet and listen; who can feel humbled by the little noises a self-seeking soul makes in the presence of God. How many noises we make when perhaps the time could be spent listening to God! Is He not anxious to speak to us? We have ten thousand things we want to ask Him for; all of them He knows beforehand, but He wants us to ask far them. But are there not ten thousand things He wants us to hear? He wants us to give Him the hearing ear.