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 (also referred to as Christ in the House of Martha and by other variant names) refers to a Biblical episode in the life of Jesus which appears only in Luke's Gospel (Luke 10:38–42), immediately after the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37).[1]

Gospel of Luke[edit]

Georg Friedrich Stettner: Christ at the home of Martha and Mary

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."


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 listening to the teachings of Jesus. This is consistent with Jesus saying that Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God (Matthew 4:4), and The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life, meaning eternal life John 6:63.[2]

To simplify, this is frequently interpreted as spiritual values being more important than material business, such as preparation of food. Two different words describe her distress – "worry", and "distract" – and Luke accordingly doubles her name and uses alliteration to draw attention to her anxious behavior (Greek: Μάρθα Μάρθα μεριμνᾷς, Martha, Martha, merimnas in Luke 10:41).

13th-century mystic Meister Eckhart offered in his sermons a different interpretation, stating that contemplation is not necessarily better than work. Matthew Fox writes, "Compassion and the works born of compassion are themselves acts of contemplation."[3] Eckhart sees Martha as the figure of higher level of perfection.[4] Economist Henry Ergas sees this interpretation as "the uniquely Western sacralisation of hard work, thrift and aspiration".[5]


Some Christians and scholars have conflated Luke 10's Jesus' visit to Martha and Mary in an unnamed Galilean village with John's Jesus' visit to Lazarus, Martha, and Mary in Bethany, Judea, during which John posits the Anointing of Jesus.[6] In turn, this Johannine Anointing of Jesus in Bethany has been conflated with the Luke 7's Anointing of Jesus by the sinful woman in Galilee.[7] Moreover, Mary of Bethany has been typically conflated in Catholic medieval tradition with Mary Magdalene (who has also been conflated with the sinful woman of Luke 7), though the New Testament most probably means three different people in three separate events.[8]

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 show Mary washing, or just having washed, Jesus's feet, recalling the story in John 12.1–8 (which seems to be about Mary of Bethany). Via the story in Luke 7.36–50 (about an unnamed 'sinful woman'), however, Mary of Bethany was often conflated with Mary Magdalene, and this too may be reflected in art.[9] Artists depicting the subject include Velázquez, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Caravaggio and Rubens.

Individual works with articles include:

Depiction in literature[edit]

Rudyard Kipling's poem "The Sons of Martha", Kipling defends people who dedicate themselves to work like Martha.

In his book The Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley alludes to the story of Mary and Martha, addressing the distinction between what he terms "the way of Mary" and "the way of Martha". Huxley notes that, during his experiences with mescaline, time seems to stand still, and contemplation—the way of Mary—rules the day. Quotidian cares fall to the wayside. In one passage, Huxley writes, "Mescalin opens up the way of Mary, but shuts the door on that of Martha."

In the novel Time Enough for Love by Robert A. Heinlein, the character Minerva says, "I am a Martha, Lazarus, not her sister Mary." This, as a response to another character's attempt to describe her appearance, is a testament to her pride in being practically minded.

In the novel The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, the women servants of the dystopian society (doing the cooking and cleaning) are called "marthas".

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Tyson 1998, p. 271.
  2. ^ Aust 1999.
  3. ^ Cited in Carter 2020, p. 75
  4. ^ Flasch 2015, p. 235.
  5. ^ Ergas 2020.
  6. ^ Mills 1990, p. 507.
  7. ^ Esler & Piper 2006, pp. 49–60.
  8. ^ Anon. n.d.
  9. ^ Schiller 1971, p. 158–159.


  • Anon. (n.d.). "Maria Magdalena". Winkler Prins Encarta. Microsoft Corporation/Het Spectrum.
  • Aust, Jerold (5 December 1999). "Profiles of Faith: Mary & Martha – Lessons from Two Sisters". United Church of God. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  • Carter, Nancy Corson (2020). Martha, Mary, and Jesus: Weaving Action and Contemplation in Daily Life. Wipf and Stock. ISBN 9781532678660.
  • Ergas, Henry (11 December 2020). "Western ideals of aspiration born out of the Black Death". The Australian. Retrieved 13 December 2020.(subscription required)
  • Esler, Philip Francis; Piper, Ronald Allen (2006). Lazarus, Mary and Martha: Social-scientific Approaches to the Gospel of John. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. ISBN 9780800638306. Retrieved 9 December 2020.
  • Flasch, Kurt (2015). Meister Eckhart: Philosopher of Christianity. Translated by Anne Schindel; Aaron Vanides. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-20486-5.
  • Mills, Watson E., ed. (1990). Mercer Dictionary of the Bible. Mercer University Press. ISBN 978-0-86554-373-7.
  • Schiller, Gertrud (1971). Iconography of Christian Art. Volume 1: Christ's Incarnation. Childhood. Baptism. Temptation. Transfiguration. Works and miracles. Lund Humphries.
  • Tyson, Joseph B. (1998). Literary Studies in Luke-Acts: Essays in Honor of Joseph B. Tyson. Mercer University Press. ISBN 978-0-86554-563-2.

External links[edit]