Martha: anxious, worried and... Updated

Here's a different rendering of Martha and Mary in this coming Sunday's gospel story. Although the scene is a bit dated, there's something about the relatively contemporary aspects of it that bring home at least one important element of the scripture's message.

Here, in Maud Sumner's painting, the two sisters appear without a trace of Jesus in the frame.

Update: Keen observer/reader Samantha asks in the combox about the identity of the "man in the background..." I confess I had missed him entirely! I responded to Samantha's question in the combox - take a look at my reply and add your own thoughts there...

Still, you can almost read Martha's mind:"Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?"

Luke's recounting of this story tells us that Martha was "anxious and worried." What other words describe Martha's countenance? And what do you see on Mary's face?

For the scripture texts for this coming weekend's liturgy and for commentary on them to help you understand, see this earlier post.

Subscribe to A Concord Pastor Comments


  1. This is a great painting and one that depicts the situation the two sisters are in perfectly.
    Martha looks jaded and worn out from the mundane and there is a wistfulness in her face as she looks at her younger sister who has that dreamy look of love in her eyes - she is in another place of rapture!!
    Jesus challenges us to leave our anxieties and work at the door. "Can any of you, by worrying so much about your work, add a single day to your lifespan?" Not only does work numb us to the joys and wonders of the world, but it gets in the way of our relationships - with God and with one another.
    Thanks Austin. I will put a link to this on my blog.

  2. In this issue of Catholic Digest, July/August, pp.66-71, is an article on Amy Heyd and her book, SAINTS AT THE DINNER TABLE. The recipe that was inspired by the story of Martha and Mary is called "Gimme-A-Break Meal." And if that doesn't bring a smile to your face, then her reason for her choice of title wil. It's an easy recipe to throw together when guests show up unannounced.

  3. I was quite surprised when I saw this post and the readings for this Sunday. My daughter is getting married in two weeks and I feel very much like Martha in that there is just so much to do. I enjoy your pictures very much. They are a great way to trigger reflection. I felt compelled to read the gospel myself (although I thought I knew if very well) Upon reading it, what jumped out at me for the first time were Jesus' words: "...there is need of only one thing." He does not tell Martha to stop her work but she lacks the one thing. (Kind of reminds me of the movie City Slickers, if you've seen it) The one thing Mary has is her love and devotion to Jesus. It is this one thing (a relationship with Jesus) that could transform her and her attitude toward her many very necessary tasks. Thank you for posting the pictures. I will watch for more!

  4. Who is the man in the backround with his head to his forehead? He looks like he's had enough of the entire scene!

  5. A very keen eye, Samantha - I hadn't noticed him at all! I believe that's Jesus and I think that perhaps he's not in the background but rather in the foreground, his face reflected in a mirror.

  6. yes, it looks to me also that the image of the man is probably a reflection in a mirror or something-

    and, trying to study his face, he doesn't look to me like he has had enough of the scene-
    he looks as if he is shading his eyes (from the sun? or light... ) and his facial expression looks very calm and without worry or concern-
    I think I even see a slight smile on his face...

  7. I looked up an interpretation. Just wanted to share. This is what I found. "Martha and Mary Oil on Canvas: Sumners interpretation of the conflict between two types of humanity,(and has been interpreted as a portrayal of two very distinct aspects of her own personality) - the one who seeks the divine by contemplation and the other who seeks it in action. However, most mysterious is the reflection of a man's face in the mirror. Is he an admirer, a lost brother, or could he be the sub-conscious masculine aspect of the Artist herself?"

  8. Not that I think it's him, but where's their brother Lazarus?

    On the Benedictine Order's calendar, the feast on July 29 isn't just the feast of St. Martha, but rather it's the Memorial of "St. Martha, St. Mary and St. Lazarus, hosts of the Lord"


Please THINK before you write
and PRAY before you think!