Time for Reflection

– in the Scottish Parliament on 17th November 2020.

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Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

Good afternoon, colleagues. We begin business today with time for reflection. Our time for reflection leader is the Rev Dr Martin Ritchie, minister at Greenbank Parish Church in Edinburgh.

The Rev Dr Martin Ritchie (Greenbank Parish Church, Edinburgh):

Thank you for the chance to share this time for reflection with you.

One of my favourite stories in the gospel of Luke is about Jesus’ visit to the home of his friend Lazarus. Lazarus is out when he calls, but his sisters Martha and Mary are there. They invite Jesus in and spend time with him. What happens next is important. Mary sits with Jesus, we are told, and no doubt chats about all sorts of things—quality time, you might say. Martha, in contrast, bounces into action to respond to the hospitality codes of the ancient middle east, preparing something to eat and drink, which is a fine thing to do, as well.

The Spanish artist Diego Velázquez painted the story in 1618. He called it “Kitchen Scene with Christ in the House of Martha and Mary”. The view is of Martha slaving in the kitchen and looking a bit trauchled. Alongside her is a rather hard-looking older woman who seems to be whispering in Martha’s ear, as she points through a hatch into a room beyond, where Jesus and Mary are talking, as if to say: “look at that Mary—sitting there doing nothing.”

Many listeners might more naturally identify with the activism of Martha, but I bet that most of you will have some of Mary in you, too. You are all familiar with the window pods for reflection in the offices of the Parliament building. Those are a great symbol and reminder to us that if we do not take time to pause and reflect on a regular basis to intentionally hold all the people and places of this country and the Parliament in our hearts as well as our minds, we may end up like Martha in the Velázquez portrait: a bit bitter and business-like.

In truth, we all need our Martha and Mary sides to be healthy and effective, and to fulfil our calling as humans as well as public servants. So, even in the midst of the sometimes frantic and hardball politics of our times, do not neglect to take the time to sit, or to walk and wonder, and to hold the world close but to the side, and to let balance come once again, before you let your Martha out.