Mary of Bethany vs. Martha of Bethany

After a full year of holy anticipation, Lent Madness returns for another season of saintly thrills and spills! Whether this is your tenth year engaging in the annual saintly smackdown or your first, we're delighted you'll be spending a portion of your Lenten journey among us. Along the way there will be debates, ire, angst, rejoicing, laughter, and holy trash talking. Just remember, it’s all in the spirit of this holy season specifically set aside to grow closer to God through our relationship with Jesus Christ.

To experience the fullness of the Lent Madness experience, the Supreme Executive Committee encourages you to do several things. First, like Lent Madness on Facebook and/or follow us on Twitter. Second, subscribe to the Lent Madness e-mails so you never miss a vote. You can do this by going to the home page of our website and entering your e-mail address (near the top right). Third, you can support the ministry of Lent Madness by heading over to the Lentorium and purchasing Lent Madness swag.

But mostly, we encourage you to read about the 32 saintly souls participating in this year's edition of Lent Madness, faithfully cast your (single!) vote on the weekdays of Lent, and add your comments to the great cloud of participating witnesses that gathers as the online Lent Madness community each year.

Lent Madness 2019, or Lent Madness X as we've been calling it, kicks off with a battle between two Biblical heavyweights as we settle, once and for all, the age old question: Mary vs. Martha. And before you say it, of course it's not fair! It's not called Lent Madness for nothing.

So, hang onto your halos, friends, and prepare yourselves for another wild ride of saintly action. Away we go!

Mary of Bethany

Mary at the feet of JesusMary of Bethany lived in first-century Bethany with her sister, Martha, and her brother, Lazarus, as we are told in the Gospel of Luke. Along with her siblings, she was among the very first to believe in Jesus.

Luke recounts the famous story of Jesus having supper at the sisters’ house, where Martha, concerned with getting the food on the table, asks Jesus to scold Mary for her apparent lack of concern. It’s notable that Mary is described as sitting at Jesus’ feet while Martha serves; usually only the male students of rabbis sat at the feet of their teachers. For Mary to do so is highly unusual for an unmarried woman—possibly why Martha gets antsy about it. But Jesus declines to chide Mary for what she has done, declaring that in her discipleship, she has “chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

The Gospel of John also gives us a few more glimpses of Mary of Bethany. John explicitly links Mary with the woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her hair. At Lazarus’s death, both Mary and Martha race out into the street to greet Jesus when he finally comes, and Mary chastises him, echoing her sister’s words, saying “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” At her declaration, Jesus is moved to tears.

It is clear that Jesus is quite close with this family. Through contextual clues, we can tell that the family must have been fairly well-to-do, given the sisters’ independent status and ability to support Jesus’ ministry. They seem to own their house and are able to provide a separate burial site for their brother (somewhat rare—and not cheap.). We also have John’s story of Mary spending more than 300 denarii (equivalent to 300 days of wage for a laborer) on pure spikenard to anoint Jesus.

Later church tradition treated Mary as it treated many of the other women of the gospel; it elided her story into that of an Everywoman who is remarkable mostly in her blandness. The few stories that survive in the West often conflate her with Mary Magdalene. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, her uniqueness survives, and with her sister and Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany is remembered on the third Sunday of Easter as one of the Myrrh-Bearing Women—the first to recognize the risen Christ.

Collect for Mary of Bethany
O God, heavenly Father, your Son Jesus Christ enjoyed rest and refreshment in the home of Mary and Martha of Bethany: Give us the will to love you, open our hearts to hear you, and strengthen our hands to serve you in others for his sake; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

-Megan Castellan

Martha of Bethany

MarthaThe iconic Martha of Bethany is the hero of faithful pragmatics and doers, though she gets a bad rap for being less contemplative than her sister. When Jesus visits her house, Mary sits at his feet, but Martha feels the burdens of her role as hostess and works in the kitchen, resentful that Mary isn’t helping. When she complains, the Lord answers, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted about many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” Because of this anecdote, Martha is seen to symbolize worldly concerns while her sister Mary focuses on the spiritual. When Jesus asks someone to open the tomb of her days-dead brother Lazarus, the heartbroken Martha stays true to her practical nature, responding, “Lord, already there is a stench.”

Although not expressly mentioned in the gospels, the Orthodox tradition honors both Martha and Mary as among the followers of Jesus who stood at Golgotha to witness the crucifixion, and later carried myrrh to his tomb to anoint the body. Thus they are counted among the first witnesses of the resurrection. This tradition also holds that Martha fled persecution in Judea with Lazarus, joining him as a missionary abroad until he became a bishop in Cyprus, where all three siblings eventually died.

According to the Golden Legend, a medieval hagiography (writing about the lives of the saints), the siblings were of noble birth. Martha put her aristocratic hostess skills to use for Jesus because, “She thought that all the world was not sufficient to serve such a guest.” The same legend holds that the family arrived in France miraculously via a ship without oars or sails to preach the gospel. The eminently practical Martha tamed a Galician dragon, “half beast and half fish, greater than an ox, longer than a horse, having teeth sharp as a sword, and horned on either side, head like a lion, tail like a serpent.” Afterward Martha lived a life of daily devotion in France until she died. A tomb in the Collegiate Church of Tarascon purportedly contains her relics.

Martha’s feast day is July 29, and she is patron saint of cooks, dietitians, domestic help, housekeepers, servants, and waitpersons. And of course, she is admired by pragmatics, doers, and practitioners of common sense.

Collect for Martha of Bethany
O God, heavenly Father, your Son Jesus Christ enjoyed rest and refreshment in the home of Mary and Martha of Bethany: Give us the will to love you, open our hearts to hear you, and strengthen our hands to serve you in others for his sake; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

-Amber Belldene

Mary of Bethany vs. Martha of Bethany

  • Martha of Bethany (58%, 6,044 Votes)
  • Mary of Bethany (42%, 4,442 Votes)

Total Voters: 10,486

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Mary of Bethany: By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons
Martha of Bethany: By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons


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537 comments on “Mary of Bethany vs. Martha of Bethany”

        1. Welcome Gloria! I had to vote Mary because she did listen and the work can always wait - besides, my name is Mary!

          1. Without Martha no one eats, everyone lives in squalor. We Martha's say our prayers while washing the dishes!

          2. Ellen
            Voted for Martha. She was willing to forgo being with Jesus recognizing that she had to be a good host and welcome him. We have to recognize that this was expected and she was a pragmatist.

          3. Mary reminds us what is most important. With Martha being "host", she couldn't sit and enjoy her guest, Jesus. Being a Martha can wait until the guests have left, Mary was simply enjoying the company of Jesus, something we all should strive towards. Be patient, don't fret & overcome yourself with busy-ness, and bask in God's presence.

          4. I had to go with Mary because she led with her heart. I’m too much like Martha.

        2. Being a Martha, and being ragged at about this story my whole life about how Martha "complained", I have no choice but to vote for my sister Martha.

          1. It seems that the Galician dragon was metaphoric for Martha. In taming this personal dragon
            she was able to spend the the remainder of her life in daily devotion.

          2. I am also a Martha and need to come out of the kitchen to enjoy my guests! We all know nothing would ever get done without a Martha... so she has my vote. We can visit during and after the meal!

        3. It's my tenth year. I voted with Jesus - for Mary. Going without food for a day when Jesus is in town is no big deal.

    1. While I live as a Martha/ a doer, inspired by Vatican II and liberation theology, I selected Mary (but only for this lent) to be my inspiration. I need to be more “in the moment” with Jesus. This is my first experience with Lentmadness and it started with a VERY difficult choice. Thank you for enriching my journey this lent.

        1. Joining the other Martha's in the comments. We pray while we work and we get the job done

    2. Well, in today's world; with children being ripped from their parents. Food and lodging being denied children because tax breaks for the well to do! Healthcare being denied for the hard working poor.. I had to vote for Martha, hoping we can turn these things around! Martha is a doer!

  1. Such an epic battle deserves an epic Hamilton-like tribute (to the tune of "The Schuyler Sisters"):

    There’s nothing church folks love more
    Than starting Lent Madness with a bang and not a bore.
    They read their Saintly Scorecards and they gawk
    At the saintly lives of old
    When they walked the talk.
    Take Lazarus: on the bracket last year –
    Uh-oh, though beaten in the first tier
    His sisters, Mary, Martha (both from Bethany)
    First on this year’s bracket so one loses helplessly…

    (Vote, vote!)
    From Bethany
    (Vote, vote!)
    It’s Mary
    And Martha
    The Bethany Sisters
    From Bethany:
    And Martha!

    Mary: Jesus said I can lie at his feet.
    Martha: I have dishes in the sink.
    Mary: Jesus said open up the tomb.
    Martha: But from here I smell the stink.
    Both: But, bring the myrrh, bring the myrrh!
    The Resurrection’s happening near our town…
    Our town…

        1. Michael, you're terrific!! I LOVE your Rap song!! Hope we hear more from your during Lent Madness!!! By the way, I voted for Martha. We Marthas are undersung... pardon the pun, Michael. 🙂

      1. As a task-oriented person, I could easily vote for Martha, but, alas, my vote goes to Mary, who also provides for the rabbi Jesus.

        1. Since I'm a Mary person, I had to vote for her. Yes, she didn't help with the hosting duties but she was more interested in what the Lord had to say. I'd rather do that than wash dirty dishes!!!

      1. Yes, clever, but also important. Just like debate classes in school teach that you must be able to make a convincing argument on BOTH sides of an issue. Xians should all be able to argue for both these saints (no matter how they vote). So kudos to Michael for the song and also to the SEC for scheduling this match up!

      1. Did Martha and Mary know Jesus was coming for lunch? They could have prepared the food before hand so that
        both sisters could listen to Jesus. Otherwise Jesus could come out to the kitchen and visit with both sisters while lunch was prepared ----assuming that the three of them were hungry!

        1. Jesus had a habit of just dropping in on people. Martha I'm in Altar Guild

    1. I've voted Martha. No where is it mentioned that her faith, even in the beginning, was any less than Mary's. Perhaps her thinking was "Of course he's the messiah. Duh. I better feed him." Perhaps her faith was so matter of fact and immediate that she could revert to her normal routine and know/believe that Jesus and God would understand.

      1. IM SO EXCITED!!!
        And yes... we do FOOD!
        Martha: feed him!
        Sooooo happy to have y’all back❤️

      2. I voted for Martha as well. She was the one who went out to Jesus to talk to him about Lazarus - and hinted that he could so something about her brother's death, if he chose to. She knew who Jesus was - and knew that she could go to him in her time of need.

      3. And we’re off! Welcome back, Lent Madness friends. I voted for Martha. It’s nice to be able to be the listener, but someone’s got to run the show. Martha was a doer, and her spirituality was her being the Lady of the House and providing for the Guest.

    2. I love this! Thank you so much for sharing this charming tribute to the sisters from Bethany!

      1. I knew you would!

        "And when I meet Mark, Matt, Luke, and John, Imma compel them to empower women in the sequel!"

    3. Michael,
      Thank you for not throwing away your shot - and hopefully not your vote! Incredible way to start Lent Madness. Are you going to have a verse for each day?!

    4. Certifiably brilliant.
      My son can sing all of Hamilton; may have to hire him to sing this on Sunday in the Narthex...

  2. Because one of my tasks today is finding out where all of the church kitchen cooking and serving utensils have gone (as in disappeared), my vote is for Martha of Bethany.

    1. We more often have to put out extra casserole dishes and such, asking people to claim them! Good luck!!!

    2. May St. Anthony pitch in with Martha to guide your way, lest you wind up serving only finger foods such as loaves and fishes.

    3. Afterwards, you are welcome to help me in the never-ending search for whateveritis that has vanished from the Sacristy this week!

    4. I just had to listen, and sing along with the new words. It was great. But alas, now I must vote!!

    5. Label them or write the name of the church in bright red nail polish. Yes I have a place in our church kitchen.

  3. I'm not seeing any comments . . . though clearly I'm not the first to vote. As the daughter of a Martha . . . I went for Mary in the spirit of "Let me read my book . . . who cares about housework!" 🙂

    1. Exactly! Jesus said: “Mary has chosen the better part”. How then can you vote for Martha?

      1. I voted for Martha and am shocked to see that she is trending in the majority because Mary is usually the favored one! Maybe Mary was Jesus' favorite sister so he wanted her attention. But that doesn't mean he didn't care for her; he didn't dismiss her in an ugly way - it's almost a rueful comment. Besides, I am sure the other guests wanted dinner even if Jesus didn't. (Just kidding.)

        1. I was most impressed this year in how brave Mary was to step outside cultural norms and demonstrate that a WOMAN could claim a studious spot among the disciples. You've got to guess that while Martha voices her criticism, male disciples were all whispering about that uppity woman, too. No wonder Jesus had to specifically address the issue.

  4. Have always felt sorry for Martha. No one would help with her domestic chores! Can you see the apostles helping out and washing the dishes?

    1. The gospels were written by men. Perhaps if Mary was allowed an extra special spot, some of the apostles also helped with the dishes, but no apostle would include that bit in writing 🙂

    2. I've always thought that maybe Martha was cranky because she would have liked some time to listen and think too! Maybe if everyone had taken a little time in the kitchen, Martha would have been able to come out and hear the teaching now and then.

      1. I agree with Wynne, often sing praise/prayers while I'm doing house keeping and dishes. I also know that Jesus said, "Mary has chosen the better part", but still I #voteMartha, because I can totally relate to feeling like I'm the only one doing anything to accomplish a benefit (food, provision) for everyone. I also think Jesus would have gotten up to help and work alongside with Martha and encourage Mary to help out, too, but that is not written in the scriptures. I hate to think that Jesus has favorites. I love the "Sisters from Bethany" Hamilton rap ,- thank you so much, Michael Wachter. Lent Madness! I will promote this at St James Episcopal here in Waimea where I have the privilege to serve as the choir director.

        1. Like. I've always thought that Jesus would have gotten up to help Martha too. I also sing when I'm doing dishes :). I voted for Martha, because 1)she tamed a dragon, 2)what she said when she met Jesus on the road after Lazarus died, (John 11:21-27), 3) I appreciate all the hard work of being a host, 4) She is the patron saint of housekeepers and domestic help, and I love a clean house!

      2. I have always thought the same thing. Mary was able to choose "the better part," because Martha was there to do the chores. When was Martha ever invited to choose?

      3. Aboslutely! I listen from the kitchen as much as I can since, when unexpected guest appear, there seems to be this compulsion to feed them *something*. Dishes can wait, I agree, and usually they do; however food cannot for too long.

    3. I've always thought Martha was treated unfairly. Someone has to fix the food! I remember the hurt of being treated as helper in the kitchen while it seemed as if everyone else was having fun and taking me for granted. Would Jesus really have wanted himself and all his company to go without food? I picture Martha listening from the wings - not ignoring what was being said, but wishing she could participate like her sister.

    4. Exactly my thoughts, Harriet. Think of all the complaining that would ensue when dinner wasn't available!

  5. I loved learning how Mary's seating spot was something more special than I'd known before, and I wondered how I could ever cross Jesus for declaring Mary had “chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her,” but, but, but .. patron saint of cooks .. Martha gets my "madness" vote.

  6. I voted for Martha, because she is like so many of us, showing her love with food and hospitality, and sometimes trapped in what we should do rather than what we could do.

    1. Me too, Oliver! Although I was tempted by Martha slaying that beast.
      I miss you and your parents. Please tell them I say hello!

    2. I don’t feel trapped. I was raised in the Martha role, but didn’t actually know it. Women today (in general) are not taught how to “entertain”. All that being said, if Jesus came to my house today I would offer him a glass of wine then sit at his feet.

  7. We voted for Martha because she tamed the half-fish, half-dragon. It was crazy!

    1. I agree with you, Pailet! I thought the dragon was amazing. I voted for Martha, too.

    2. The dragon part got my vote, too. Years ago, I visited the south of France and read that she tamed the dragon and led it away with her girdle (clearly a different kind of garment then) as a leash!

    3. I agree with you Pailet, I liked the story about the dragon, but saw it as representing all of the challenges we have to face down, including illness. Martha was practical, but faced down serious difficulties with her bravery.

      1. As a caregiver I have to face many challenges each day but also be practical and get my housework done and provide meals it is not always easy but with Gods help it can be done and still find quite times to pray

  8. Martha gets my vote. She is generous and practical, capable of seeing things realistically while not losing her devotion to her God. And I'm a darn good cook and hostess. Martha is my soulmate!!

  9. I was all set to vote for Mary, but then I found out that Martha purportedly tamed a dragon!

  10. Voted for Martha, because dragon. (Taming one and teaching it to sing psalms, if I recall the Golden Legend correctly, which is much more impressive than slaying one),

    1. My thoughts exactly. The dragon in these stories represents the hidden chaos of our inner selves. The guys always slay the dragon. But it is out of chaos that creation comes. Martha reconciles rather than represses.

      1. You just know that Mary stood there screaming "help Martha there's a big scary dragon".....

  11. My first vote for Lent Madness 2019 - just really exciting!!! My vote was for Martha because I feel she is so much like me, although I would be happy if Mary won. Today's outcome could go either way - they are both wonderful women, an example to follow.

  12. My vote reflects my admiration for Martha's deep face. With Lazarus dead, Mary follows the traditional path of weeping and wailing. Martha goes to meet Jesus and affirms his power even over death. We tend to overlook her faithfulness and faith to concentrate on her busyness.

  13. Of course Martha’s ahead at this early hour. It’s only the early risers who vote for Martha. The Mary fans are still sleeping - waiting for Martha to bring them coffee.

    1. Right this moment, as at this time every morning, my husband is in the middle of an hour of sitting meditation, and I have fed the cat, split wood and built a fire in the wood-burning stove, and will soon be fixing breakfast. It takes both kinds of people for the good world to go 'round!

      1. I agree, Janet. And I think that is the lesson that Jesus intended: Do what you are called to do and quit fretting about what others are called to do. I’m hoping Martha got the message as she continued to serve the Jesus movement, since I voted for her.

    2. Very observant! I voted for Mary because she knew what counts is the teachings of Jesus. Martha seemed a little passive aggressive to me. And why should the women be relegated to the kitchen while the men get to be with the guest of honor? I'm with Mary.

    3. Thank you for putting it that way. I feel the same way. Almost everyone seems to try to make you feel guilty for liking and being like Martha.

  14. A simple explanation for my Martha vote - I'm always on the side of the underdog! But seriously, I think most of us would be Marthas rather than Marys in this situation. Faith is often a hard choice but one I constantly strive for.

  15. Martha is my Saint today. She gets too little credit, and none at all in the church for making the same announcement for which Peter gets a whole extra feast day. Martha, too, recognized and confessed Jesus as Messiah.

  16. Have always had a soft spot for Martha, and the image of Martha supposedly taming a dragon made my mind up!

  17. I voted for Martha. If she hadn't kept the household running, Mary would not have been able to sit at Jesus' feet either.

  18. A friends father died. A group of five women got together to serve a meal to the family between viewing times. As the family was eating, I sat on a couch chatting with the oldest son when I saw one of my kitchen friends motioning to me to join them in the kitchen. I looked up at her and said, "Martha, I choose to stay here". I've had plenty of Martha moments but I voted for Mary as Jeanne and I refer to ourselves at Martha and Mary. I'm sure she will vote Martha.

  19. I venerate Mary because Jesus's reaction to Martha's scolding has always told me that women were and are equal disciples for Jesus. So many messages within churches are on the other side. While busyness is necessary in life and in the church, I will always prefer the spiritual to the earthly concerns with Mary of Bethany and Jesus. Here's to Mary, a Lily of the Field!

    1. YES! That's exactly the message I got. There's no reason Mary had to be in the kitchen. Why didn't Martha scold James or Simon to help out? Actually, why didn't any of the visitors offer to help Martha? For me it was about dragging the only woman away from the central benefit of the event - listening to Jesus. I would hope that if Jesus showed up at my church, everyone would be listening with rapt attention, not being a martyr in the kitchen. When it's time to eat, order pizza!

    2. Indeed, it’s important to remember that Christianity recognizes the equality of women, and that the inclusion of women was a factor in its spread throughout the world. Emperor Constantine was deeply influenced by his mother and wife to convert the Roman Empire, and we find the same influence repeated often. The sisters, Mary and Martha, along with Mary Magdalene, set the example for women religious, and their treatment as equals brought many into the Church.

  20. I had to vote for Martha, a practical person. Somebody has to do the thankless chores and she put her devotion to work.

  21. I've always felt Martha was given a raw deal in that story. Here she's had at least 13 people descend on her household and probably more since Jesus drew a crowd wherever He went. Her tradition said she needed to feed and serve all these people. What housewife wouldn't be frantic and expect her sister to help because, again, tradition said that was woman's work. Besides I couldn't resist a dragon tamer. So, Martha for me today.

    1. I'm with you. I've always felt a kinship with Martha, who was doing all the work while Mary sat there with Jesus, and then she was chided for not doing the better part! I had no idea about the dragon taming - that's just the cherry on top.