Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
Painted by Hendryk Siemiradzki (1843-1902),
Oil on canvas
Painted circa 1886
© The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
Painted by Hendryk Siemiradzki (1843-1902),
Oil on canvas
Painted circa 1886
© The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

Gospel of 29 July 2023

Martha works, Mary listens

Luke 10:38-42

Jesus came to a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. She had a sister called Mary, who sat down at the Lord’s feet and listened to him speaking. Now Martha who was distracted with all the serving said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself? Please tell her to help me.’ But the Lord answered: ‘Martha, Martha,’ he said ‘you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her.’

Reflection on the painting

Today we celebrate the Memorial of Saints Martha, Mary and Lazarus. On 26 January 2021 Pope Francis, in order stress the importance of the family spirit of the home in Bethany where Jesus loved to stay, established this memorial, replacing the previous memorial of Saint Martha.

Our late 19th century painting by Polish-Rome based painter Hendryk Siemiradzki, depicts Jesus at their home. The play of light in this painting is truly exquisite: look at the shadows on the stone surfaces, the light and shadow on Christ’s cloak and on the skilfully painted carpet at the front. Light is not just important in painterly compositions, but also in our approach to reading the Gospels. We often need to read some of these familiar stories in a new light, with a fresh approach. We are probably all familiar with this story of Mary and Martha: Jesus visits them, Mary sits at his feet to listen to Him, while Martha does all the work serving, Martha complains to Jesus and then Jesus tells her that Mary has chosen ‘the better part’… When reading this passage we ask ourselves who we are in this story? Are you Martha, busy and anxious about many things, or are you Mary, sitting and listening to the Master? Truth is that we have a touch of both in us.

Neither sister is wrong in what they are doing. Both are good people. Serving other people is a very noble, Christian way of life; spending time with Our Lord listening to what He has to say to us, is equally important and necessary. In our culture of hectic schedules and busy working lives, we are tempted however to measure our worth by how busy we are and by how much we accomplish. Like Martha, It is probably true that much of our business stems from the noblest of intentions. Yet if all our activities leave us with no time to be quiet and peaceful in the Lord’s presence and hear God’s word, we are likely to end up anxious and restless…

As regards to our relationship with Jesus, there is a time to be active on his behalf, and a time to be quiet and listen to his word. Both are important.We need to be attentive to both the Word of the Lord and the Work of the Lord!

 

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Polly French
Member
Polly French
10 months ago

Give us the grace of discernment and right judgment Lord so we know what you want us to do! There is a time for everything. Help us not to fret about the unimportant things in life and keep our sights firmly on Jesus. Like the light and shadow in the painting, all things in moderation.

Christine H
Christine H
10 months ago

Oh gosh, all of you and your extremely thoughtful and often personal comments about this gospel reading have been so influential for me. I probably will remember this Gospel reading more than any others as a result. I’ve been pondering this reading and your comments for hours and it turned into my own Rubix’s cube. I’m turning it all on its head. Instead of continuing to look at this as whether I am Martha or Mary (I’m Martha), I think I need instead to focus on Jesus as the only subject that really matters. In total simplicity: maybe (just a theory) Jesus is telling us all that we’d better stop and listen and value every second with Him and pay careful attention because this is a very special situation. Normally I’m sure He would have been very polite and gracious about Martha’s diligence, but He is letting everyone know that there is not much time with Him and so stop everything and, if you have ears, then listen. Similar to this is the anointing at Bethany, in which Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” Jesus is telling us there that this is a rare moment, not like any other. It’s the wedding, not a usual occasion. Like when He gave the parable about not fasting at a wedding when people objected to his disciples not fasting when they were with Him: “The bridegroom’s attendants are not able to fast while the bridegroom is with them, are they? As long a time as they have the bridegroom with them, they are not able to fast. But days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. ” In sum, Jesus is the bridegroom when he is with Martha and Mary, and so things can all be done a little differently than normal for such a special occasion of having the bridegroom with them.

The painting is incredible. It was confusing to me because when I first saw it, I could not believe it was not a photograph – incredible realism. And the lighting is stunning!! In my opinion, this is an incredible website with incredible people.

Will Howard
Member
Will Howard
10 months ago
Reply to  Christine H

THANK YOU Christine
… Truly, the ” sum” of every Eucharistic Celebration offers, “Blessed those who are invited to the MARRIAGE supper of the Lamb”. The liturgist of the N. O. decided to drop this MOST IMPORTANT word out of the Rev 19:9 text being used – for what ever reason. But we must never forget this most important nuance of the Liturgy, of the Eternal Banquet that we ALREADY attend, ‘now and not yet’. After all, isn’t it/life all about a preparation for the divine marriage of God and Man (humanity if you wish) in the summing up of all time?
And on this wondrous triune feast of the Saints, there is yet another epic scriptural citation of the three, at the rising of Lazarus’s. Perhaps we can ask re: the piece today: what is Jesus telling Mary, as he points to the ‘tree’? Perhaps: ‘ BELIEF in our own crosses, that we all must ultimately pass through (notice the OPEN olive trees – re: the G of G) on a daily bases. Siemiradzk’s use of light is only achieved by his brilliant use of shadow. Christ’s hand is the center of the piece, yet very deftly, using composition and perspective, the artist draws our eye into the shadows on the panels left where Martha carries the pitcher of water/‘baptism’ (perhaps olive oil for anointing/lamp-filling) over her heart; she, representing the ‘servants, one of the 5 wise bridesmaids, who is listening for the bridegroom … out of this wolds gloom and struggles? And yet, at the raising of Lazarus, it is Martha who professes ““Yes, Lord … I have always believed”. At the end of the day, is it not Martha who has actually chosen the better part.

Christine H
Christine H
10 months ago
Reply to  Will Howard

Fr. Will, I cannot thank you enough for your post! I am printing it so that I can re-read it many times. Your words are filled with treasure for me to peruse. Thank you for this gift. Blessings to you always.

Carol Heise
Member
Carol Heise
10 months ago

I have always thought Martha was the one who was doing everything, including honoring our Lord by working so hard for Him whenever He chose to drop by their house. As the eldest sister all duties fell to her and a good thing, too, because she was the capable one. What chaos there could have been if Mary were in charge. Both sisters had their place in their brother’s house. When Lazarus had been in the tomb for three days where was Mary and what was she doing ? Sitting inside weeping with the other mourning Jews, resigned to her brother’s death. But, what was Martha doing ? She had left her duties, going to the brow of the hill to watch and wait for Jesus. She knew he was coming, had no doubt that he would be there to right the situation. Even though Lazarus was indeed dead, she knew he would rise again. She did not even seem surprised when He said that He was the resurrection and the life. I can see her nodding her head in agreement with certain, yet quiet faith when she said that she knew He was the Christ. She did not hesitate when she followed Him to the tomb to be a witness to His great work. Before I was confirmed in the Church my priest asked me who’s saint’s name I wished to take. I told him that it should be Martha. He was somewhat surprised and asked, why her ? I told him that I had a lot in common with her. Since that day and every day I have worn her medal around my neck, along with the crucifix of my Lord.

Rya Lucas
Member
Rya Lucas
10 months ago
Reply to  Carol Heise

I like your comment very much! It is straight and honest. And I am enthousiastic that you did choose for Martha! Well done!

Christine H
Christine H
10 months ago
Reply to  Carol Heise

Carol, that is a wonderful personal story!!! Thank you so much for sharing it. I especially love your wearing Martha’s medal and the crucifix every day since the time of your confirmation.

Andy Bocanegra
Member
Andy Bocanegra
10 months ago

I love this painting showing a beautiful day sitting with Jesus. I tend to identify more with Mary because of my Type B personality. I’ve heard it said that Martha might have been upset because only men were supposed sit at the feet of a rabbi and Mary was taking the position of a man. If this is true, it is just another way that Our Lord broke with the traditions of the day.

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