Jesus at the home of Martha and Mary

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
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 an episode in the life of Jesus which appears only in Luke's Gospel (Luke 10:38–42), and can be read immediately after the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37).[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.

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."[3]


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 goes in line with words by Jesus 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).[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 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.[5] Artists depicting the subject include Diego Velázquez, Rembrandt, Jan Vermeer, Caravaggio and Rubens.[6]

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."


  1. ^ Literary studies in Luke–Acts by Joseph B. Tyson, Richard P. Thompson 1998 ISBN 0-86554-563-4 p. 271
  2. ^ Mercer Dictionary of the Bible by Watson E. Mills, Roger Aubrey Bullard 1998 ISBN 0-86554-373-9 p. 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. 158–59, (English trans from German), Lund Humphries, London, ISBN 0-85331-270-2
  6. ^ Gallery of art

See also[edit]