Bible People  -  Martha and Mary

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Same flower, different colors

Mary & Martha's story

'Scroll of the Bible

Bible text for this story

Martha and Mary in the garden with Jesus

Bible Women: Martha & Mary

Diagram of an ancient tomb

The tomb of Lazarus

Painting of Martha and Mary with Jesus, He Qi

Famous paintings:
Martha and Mary

White funereal flowers

Death and Burial

A bowl of meat, bread and olives

Women's work

Map of ancient Jerusalem

Jerusalem Maps
see map 5





Bible text for this story


Famous paintings
of stories about
Martha and Mary

Should women work, or stay at home? In a way Mary and Martha faced this problem. Martha knew domestic chores were essential, though undervalued; Mary demanded equal rights with the male disciples. 
Who was right?

See the Activities Page for more on this question.


Activities for individuals or groups

Should women work or stay at home?

Martha reproving her sister Mary, 
Orazio Gentileschi

For many women, it's not a choice. They work because their family needs the money. Other women choose to work because they like their job and they like the extra money. In a way this is the central question behind the story of Mary and Martha.

  • Martha knows domestic chores are essential, though undervalued; she knows that a well-run household and competent food preparation demand as many skills as a Law Degree.

  • Mary, on the other hand,  demands equal rights with the male disciples who are encouraged to learn, read and discuss. She has a good mind: why can't she use it?

  •  Jesus sees another dimension to the question: each of us has an obligation to develop our prayer-life, our spirituality and our relationship with God; this is the really important thing.

Who is right?
Can we develop some system where all of these needs are catered to?
Do you have any practical suggestions?

Paintings of Martha, Mary and Lazarus

He Qi, Jesus with Martha and Mary

Martha and Mary: Paintings has famous artworks for this story

Stage 1

Read the story at Martha and Mary

Stage 2

Go to Martha and Mary: Paintings. Scroll through the paintings from first to last.

Which part of the story of Martha and Mary has been the most popular with artists?

Would this have been your choice?

Artists paint what they want to paint, but they also paint with their audience in mind. Look at the paintings again. Who is the painting directed at? Explain your reasoning.

Stage 3

If you have chosen something different, ask yourself why this other incident appeals to you more than the scene favored by the artists. Spend some time quietly thinking about your response.

A letter from the past  

Bethlehem girls in traditional dress, early 19th century photograph

Bethlehem girls in traditional dress, early 19th century photograph

Choose one of the three characters in the Bethany household: Martha, Mary or Lazarus. 

Write a letter to that person, asking for more details about what happened in one of the events in which Jesus played a part.

You might ask about the house they lived in, what they were doing, what their emotions or reactions were, what the other people in the story were like, etc.

Compose the letter that Martha, Mary or Lazarus might have written in response to your questions. Give as much information as you can.
Base your response on

  • research you have done into the life and people of the times

  • a creative reconstruction of possible emotions, reactions, ideas, etc.

Tracing the last steps of Jesus

  • Research the route that Jesus followed through the Jerusalem/Bethany/Kidron Valley area. 

  • See also the Road to Calvary, showing a possible route taken by Jesus on the Way of the Cross.

  • Find the probable locations of events in the last days of Jesusí life.

19th century photograph of the city of Jerusalem

This 19th century photograph shows the city of Jerusalem (top and left) 
with the Kidron Valley in the lower right. The house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus 
was to the right of the photographed area, up the hill from the Kidron Valley


Jerusalem at the time of Jesus Christ

Jerusalem at the time of Jesus

The dinner at Bethany

 Find out about meals in ancient Israel

  • Roast Lambthe meat, vegetables and desserts that were available ( a famous cook called Apicius wrote a cookbook at about the time these events occurred, using ordinary ingredients as well as expensive ones; use a search engine to locate this book and consult his recipes)

  • the type of cooked dishes that were served

  • the layout of a dining room

  • the etiquette of dining.

Using this information, describe the meal that Jesus attended at the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus.

Famous quotations

'But Martha was distracted by her many tasks.....' (Luke 10:40)
'Lazarus, come out!' (John 11:43)
'You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.' (12:8)

These three simple quotatons from the story of Martha and Mary contain profound meanings. 

  1. The first is about the balance between work and prayer

  2. the second is about Jesus' power, and his command to Lazarus (and us) to live fully

  3. the third is about the necessity of worship as well as good works.

Bible Study Activitiy

  • Read and think about the 'Famous Quotes' above. 

  • Form an idea about what each one means to you

  • Put your idea into words, and discuss your interpretation with a learning partner.

Focus Questions for the gospel passages

1. What are the most interesting moments in the sisters' story? 
2. In the story, who speaks and who listens? Who acts? Who gets what they want? If you were in the story, which person would you want to be friends with? Which person would you want to avoid?
3. What is Jesus' interaction with the main characters? 
4. What is happening on either side of the story, in the chapters before and after it? Does this help you understand the purpose of the story?
5. The narrator/editor has chosen to tell some things and leave other things out. What has been left out of the story that you would like to know?
6. Are the characteristics and actions of the people in the story still present in the world? How is the story relevant to modern life, especially your own?



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