Take a good hard look. The pouty look on Martha’s face, almost that of a child, shows her disappointment at being busy about many things while Mary of Bethany is in the other room with Christ. Instead of focusing her attention at the task at hand, she is looking at the scene which we see reflected in the mirror on the wall behind her. She is on the edge of frustrated tears.
In the mirror we see the scene in the other room. A discussion is taking place, no doubt about fascinating things. Christ lifts His hand, which will soon be bruised in falling, pierced with a nail, as if to say, "Wait! Be silent a moment! There is more to this than meets the eye. What this really means is…."
Who can know what incredible things He is saying, which we can’t quite hear from the kitchen?
Mary’s hair is loose about her shoulders. Her hair, a "woman’s glory", is not in danger of being singed in the cooking fires, or soiled as it brushes the surface of the kitchen work table. It won’t fall into Mary’s eyes or bother her while cleaning. She can have her hair loose as she "just sits there". She has a wrap of some sort around her arm, calling to mind the robe of the ancient Greek philosopher which draped upon one arm, a conspicuous symbol that philosophers did not do manual work. They were dedicated to contemplation of the deeper questions.
Martha’s sleeves are pulled back, rolled up, exposing her forearm. There is a little bit of decoration on her rolled up sleeve which she won’t be able to show off now. Her hair is bound up. It has to be. Her own "glory" is hidden because she has a lot of work to do. She had put on dangling earrings, probably because she thought she would be out there in the parlour as well. But now… here she is in the kitchen, hair pulled back, working. Mary can just sit there and be pretty, calm, in the presence of the desired One. Martha must work, be less fetching, even grimy and sweaty as she works for everyone else’s pleasure.
Isn’t it true that sometimes we want to strip others of the joy they have when we can’t have it for ourselves?
On the table are instruments of Martha’s labor. Fish and eggs, Christian symbols. The oil flask calls our mind to the Passion, at least to the coming death and burial of Lazarus. Perhaps even the cloves of garlic are a symbol of the resurrection, much like an orange can be in art, because of its peeling and the sections it breaks down into. Most significant is the large mortar which is keeping Martha from Jesus in the other room.
Martha is literally given over to the daily grind.
So, perhaps you have been busted. The old woman on the left, probably a serving woman in the house at Bethany, who NEVER has Martha’s opportunities, is showing you yourself.
She is your conscience in this image.
In this life there is a tension between the active and the contemplative, the daily grind and a true Christian’s desire for silence, recollection and prayer. How do we rise to the challenge of bringing something of prayer and reflection to our daily work? How do you make your quiet stillness fruitful by means of corporal works of mercy? In heaven, action and contemplation will not be divided as they are here. We are still called, however, in our lives to inform each of these dimensions of Christian life with the other. [Snip] Read More from our own Father "Z"