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Martha and Mary: Rivals or Partners?


The visit to the home of Martha and Mary is one of the better-known stories in Luke’s Gospel. Mary sits passively by Jesus’ feet and is praised, while Martha, weary from her multiple exertions, is left not only to do all the work but also to remonstrate and sulk. This peremptory summary reflects the common assumptions of a superficial reading. The depictions of the sisters through the ages in art often reinforces the distinction. Mary is often portrayed as a religious in a prayerful and attentive poise, while Martha has the full garb of a housewife – apron, keys and giant ladle or wooden spoon – and wears a scowl on her face often accompanied by gesticulating arms.

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