Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, Velázquez, National Gallery, London, UK.

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

[Jesus said], “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”   Luke 10:41-42.

This scene is so utterly domestic that it is very easy for all of us to identify with poor old Martha and understand her frustration, even anger, at her sister not helping her out in the kitchen. There she is, sweating away, making sure everyone is satisfied (except herself of course), the perfect hostess, but with an overwhelming sense of unfairness. And then to be put down by Jesus himself after she had complained to him about it all. Poor Martha: she can’t win! Velázquez seems to have captured all that feeling in his picture above, don’t you think, especially in the way she is grasping her pestle! And on top of it all, she probably wanted to sit at Jesus’ feet herself to hear the voice of happiness and salvation coming from the Savior’s lips. But there she is, grumbling, gutting fish, crushing garlic, cracking eggs, life as we all know it. Today’s gospel.

Today’s first reading should ring a bell, as it was examined on Trinity Sunday last. The three men are visiting the very old Abraham, who addresses all three as “Sir”, which some people say was a foreshadowing of the revelation of the Blessed Trinity. The three announce that his wife Sarah, aged 90, will bear a child. Now, the ancients wanted basically one thing from their gods – power. They themselves had little to no power over the elements which controlled their lives – weather, invasions, earthquakes, famine and so on. So they looked to their gods to show their godlike power and prevent such disasters. Consider, for example, the dreadful bloodthirsty local Canaanite gods such as Molech. He was pretty  typical of the local pantheon. But the Abrahamic God chose to reveal his power for the first time by enabling Sarah to conceive a child and bear her baby one year later, the boy Isaac. So listening to the three visitors was life-giving for the old couple, even though the barren Sarah laughed at the incredible prediction. Now take a look at today’s second reading. It is summed up in Paul’s simple line to the Christians in Colossae“it is Christ in you, the hope for glory”.

So, we have the hope of new life for Abraham and Sarah, the eternal hope for the Christians in Colossae, and Jesus presumably delivering the same hope to Mary, which Martha knows she is missing, in today’s gospel – and she does not like it! But the remedy is clear- listen to the Lord later that day, or, more likely, have Mary tell her, teach her, what Jesus had said. And as any teacher knows, there is nothing like teaching something to make you understand it more deeply, love it more clearly and incorporate it more fully. One final thought: the Martha and Mary occasion can be taken as a model for the diaconate and the priesthood. Martha is serving (the word deacon, διάκονος (diakonos), means servant in Greek), perfectly proper, essential and acceptable, whereas Mary listens at the feet of Jesus, teachings which she will use to inspire her life, her belief and her attitude and which she will proclaim thereafter to her sister and friends: a priestly vocation!  And here we have two women! And of course, once more, all three readings today call us to accept, believe and live the life of hope and love of God, the message that remains eternal, inviting us all to accept it and live it fully.

Matthijs_musson-cristo_en_casa_de_marta_y_maria-1_edited-1Jesus in the (more upscale) House of Martha and Mary, Musson c.1650, BBVA Collection.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.




  1. This reflection misses so much and continues the view that Martha “knows she is missing” the message of Jesus and doesn’t like it. That is very presumptuous and judgemental. Martha was continuing the role of hospitality she knows best to serve those who entered their home….. but of course, we need to better listen to the gospel message. Jesus was imparting a message to help Martha, not judge. Also, your comment on how this is connected to the diaconate and priestly vocations…. well I will say this is connected to our religious sisters… to all in lay ministry… men and women alike. You have narrowed a beautiful Gosple message.


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