Jesus at the home of Martha and Mary

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Jesus at the home of Martha and Mary by Tintoretto, 16th century.

Jesus at the home of Martha and Mary or Christ in the House of Martha and other variants is an episode in the life of Jesus that appears only in the Gospel of Luke, after the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:38-42).[1] Jesus visits the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary of Bethany,[2] the latter typically conflated in Catholic medieval tradition with Mary Magdalene, though the New Testament probably means a different person.

According to the Gospel of Luke:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."[3]

Interpretation[edit]

Mary chose listening to the teachings of Jesus over helping her sister prepare food. Jesus responded that she was right because only one thing is needed, "one thing" apparently meaning salvation. This goes in line with words by Jesus that Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God (Luke 4:4), and The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life, meaning eternal life (John 6:63).[4] To simplify, this is frequently interpreted as spiritual values being more important than material business, such as preparation of food.

Depictions in art[edit]

The episode is mostly found in art from the Counter-Reformation onwards, especially in the 17th century, when the domestic setting is usually given a realistic depiction, and the subject appears as a single work rather than in cycles of the Life of Christ, or the life of Mary Magdalene. However, it appears in some Ottonian manuscript cycles, including the one in the Pericopes of Henry II (c. 1002-1012), where it is given a hieratic architectural setting. Many paintings reflect the typical medieval Catholic conflation of Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene, and Mary is often shown as washing, or having just washed, Christ's feet.[5] Artists depicting the subject include Diego Velázquez, Rembrandt, Jan Vermeer, Caravaggio and Rubens.[6]

Individual works with articles include:

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Literary studies in Luke-Acts by Joseph B. Tyson, Richard P. Thompson 1998 ISBN 0-86554-563-4 page 271
  2. ^ Mercer dictionary of the Bible by Watson E. Mills, Roger Aubrey Bullard 1998 ISBN 0-86554-373-9 page 507
  3. ^ Bible gateway
  4. ^ Profiles of Faith: Mary & Martha - Lessons from Two Sisters
  5. ^ Schiller, Gertud, Iconography of Christian Art, Vol. I, 1971, pp 158-159, (English trans from German), Lund Humphries, London, ISBN 0-85331-270-2
  6. ^ Gallery of art

See also[edit]