Salamanca, Spain is an amazingly beautiful city that impacts you the moment you arrive. It’s incredibly old and historic, but also quite modern and it is a city truly never sleeps. The people of Salamanca have a different rhythm to their lives which I find quite refreshing. They take time to sit and eat. Unlike our U.S. obsession with fast food, drive-thru service and to-go boxes, the people of Salamanca take their time. From 2pm to 5pm, most people go home or to a café restaurant to sit and enjoy food and drink. There is no eating at your desk or microwaving some strange concoction that you will devour in five minutes and call that lunch. They sit and eat real food.
The picture above is a a view of the famous Plaza Mayor during the day—a place full of restaurants and cafes, and always full of people.
And after you eat, you might want to walk it off by heading down one of the beautiful streets or simply admiring the architecture.
After 5pm, good luck finding a place to eat. Restaurants close. Until 9pm, that is. And many stay open until 2am. It’s tapas time! Yes, the awesome, unique tradition of eating small plates of delicious and fresh seafood, hams, cheese, vegetables with delicious, fresh bread and incredible wine.
Tapas, and the fellowship of people simply gathering together to sit and talk, lasts well into the late hours of the night. In Salamanca, you can easily forget what time it is, for at 10pm [or later] the sun is still out.
And as I quickly learned, children were still at play. You see, in Salamanca, it is common to see a group of kids playing soccer in the street late at night. It is common to see parents or grandparents with infants or toddlers eating tapas in the Plaza well into the night. There is a strong focus on sitting down to share food and fellowship—for all ages.
Unfortunately, there are some [mostly in the U.S. and some parts of Western Europe] who criticize the amount of time that Spaniards take to rest, eat, and fellowship. Shouldn’t they be working? Honestly, they do work—just as much as we do in the U.S., but they also stop to play.
It is a balance.
The tale of Mary and Martha is a short story about balance, and for some, a confusing story. Martha, the diligent, hospitable, hard-working person is wrong? How? And Mary, the sister who left Martha with all the work, is better? How? It’s a story about siblings. Anyone who has a brother or sister knows how this goes. Often, parents present us siblings with choices. And the parents, quite often, may try to influence us by saying: make a better choice. That better choice ranges from eating all your vegetables and not regurgitating them and then hiding them in your napkin to saying I’m sorry to your sister rather than nah, nah, nah, nah…ppfffhhttt!
But siblings, more often than not, do not make the same choices. Jaclyn’s favorite color is green but Juliette’s is pink. Jimmy chooses to listen to a certain kind of music while his two sisters prefer something else.
In my house, my brother and sister and I were often presented with this choice: what do you want to eat tonight?
My sister: stuffed green peppers with rice.
My brother: spaghetti with no sauce.
Parents: when would you like to visit grandma and grandpa?
Sister: tomorrow night.
Brother: will there be spaghetti involved? With no sauce.
Guests are coming over.
What should we make them for dinner?
Which part of the house do you want to help clean?
What games should we play?
Three different answers.
That’s really what happened with Mary and Martha. Guests were on their way. So Martha chose to dedicate her time and energy to prep. Martha chose to clean, cook, and prepare for guests. Not a bad choice at all, actually. Great hospitality. Martha’s hospitality choice wasn’t the problem.
The problem was in Martha’s reaction to Mary’s different choice.
You see, Mary chose instead to sit at the feet of their guest, Jesus. Rather than cooking and cleaning, Mary chose to listen to what Jesus had to say. Now, Martha wasn’t happy with Mary’s choice. She was jealous. Martha complained. Lazy Mary. Leaving me to do all the work. Look at her. Sitting at Jesus’ feet. Who does she think she is anyway? Martha must have felt overwhelmed, stressed out, weighed down by heaviness. She certainly was not at peace and at rest as Mary was. Maybe that’s why she got mad. Mary was able to rest, to just simply sit and listen. Martha wasn’t.
Sound familiar? In the U.S., people live at a breakneck speed. It’s one activity to another activity to another. It is almost encouraged in this culture to accomplish every task on your list, and oh by the way, if you finish the tasks on your list, you better fill that extra time with something else that you should be doing! Sitting, resting, taking a break? Impossible! Lazy!
But the story challenges this. Jesus, you see, also wanted Martha to experience rest. But Jesus understood that like many of us, Martha was caught up in a busy and “important” life. Often we claim that our work, projects, calendars, appointments, and tasks are so important. And when we see Mary so care-free, playful, curious, at rest—we resent her.
I see Mary as a child in this story. Jesus so often lifted up the example of children as a model for the adults to follow. Kids are more open, freer and less focused on the so-called important tasks.
We say: I don’t have time to play or to waste my time on such things.
Can’t you see that I have work to do?!
I’m not making Martha out to be the bad character in the story. I just think that this story is more about finding a balance.
The balance is remembering that all of us are CHILDREN of God. This helps us to focus on the better thing—what actually is important. God wants our whole selves.
God accepts us as we are.
That should give us rest.
That should give us peace.
And this rest and peace ought to inspire us to be more like children—having the attitude that the work of our hands is important, but our lives are much more impactful if the work we do is balanced by joyful and free play mixed with rest—meaning no resentment, regret, or heaviness.
I’m struck by how this story breaks stereotypes. First, Mary is a woman and her household is hosting someone, and she isn’t isolated in the kitchen. Second, she sits at the feet of a Rabbi [Jesus] and is taught. Rabbis in this time did not teach women. I find this story to be a continuation of Luke’s focus on the question: who is my neighbor? Jesus’ handling of that question turns the tables on the typical religious responses. A Samaritan is the hero and shows mercy when others don’t. A woman is the student and sits at Jesus’ feet; she does the better thing. Once again, we find Jesus calling attention to certain groups of people who are often left out or considered lesser. Samaritans, women, tax collectors, lepers, and oh yes—children.
I hear the story telling us that kids have a lot to teach us. Unfortunately, kids are often looked at as immature or not ready for big and important things. Often the work of their hands is considered a nice, cute thing, but not nearly as important as what we adults do. But that just isn’t true. I have always believed [and still do] that kids have so much to offer the world [and us]. Their ideas, perspectives, and the work and movement of their hands are essential in the world. If we don’t pay attention to them, if we do not participate with them, we lose so much and risk losing the rest we desperately need to be alive; if we don’t embrace the lives of children, we risk missing out on a blessed teaching that could change our perspectives…for the better.
The truth is, from Jesus’ time until now, I don’t think much has changed. We still single out certain groups of people and say that they are lesser. We still say that some deserve to be taught [educated] and others do not. We still say that certain people should always fill certain roles, no matter what. We still think that people in Salamanca might be crazy, unrealistic, or perhaps not hard-working.
And then this crazy Jesus says the opposite.
The better thing? Rest; sitting; listening.
Children? Let them come and learn. The kingdom of God belongs to them. Unless you adults receive the kingdom of God like children, you won’t enter it. Why? Because kids get it! For them, it’s not about theology or creeds or doctrines or denominations or money or traditions. Kids want to be loved and accepted. And they want to learn. They are like human sponges for love and learning. If they feel loved and accepted by people who love and serve God, then the kids feel that this God loves and accepts them, too. If loving and caring adults teach them about Jesus’ love then the kids feel that the adults care enough to share this with them. And, if the adults choose the better thing and actually listen closely to kids—look out! Good things might actually happen. Changes might occur for the better. Because kids, cared for and loved and taught—are inspired to use their hands and feet, mouths, minds, and bodies to do good things in the world.
And yes they can and yes they will.
Often people say that cliché thing about how kids help us remember what’s really important. Well, it may be overused, but it is true. In our world, full of distractions, busyness, stress, and “important” work to do, we can easily get distracted and weighed down. We can easily neglect the moments of rest and peace offered to us. We can easily forget that we too are children. And we can easily miss opportunities for mercy-sharing, forgiveness, joy, and flat-out godly play!
Look friends, we need to be balanced. Sometimes, we need to stop that “important” work we’re doing, sit down, and listen. What we can learn is that Jesus’ burden is light and the teaching is full of mercy and blessing.
And as children [all of us], we can recognize that kids, youth, adults—we all have hands that can bless, forgive, heal, work for good, build bridges, plant trees and gardens, clap and lift up, praise and elevate, and clasp to join the hands of others.
And this IS the better thing.
So spend time sitting and resting. Don’t worship busyness and tasks. Listen to the merciful one. Be filled and refreshed. And then, Inspired by the rest and peace and teaching offered to you, inspired by the children around us, commit to living in this way. May the work of all of our hands make a lasting, blessed impact in the world. Amen.