Martha lived with her sister Mary and brother Lazarus in the village of Bethany, just over the hill from Jerusalem. Jesus and his followers were frequent visitors to their home.
She appears in two incidents in the Gospels. First, during one of Jesus's visits, she got annoyed with Mary because she sat and listened to Jesus, leaving Martha to do all the household chores. When she complained to Jesus, he told her that Mary had made the better choice.
In the second incident, Lazarus was ill and Jesus delayed coming to heal him, even though he received an urgent message from Martha and Mary. When he arrived in Bethany, Lazarus was already dead. Martha again complained to Jesus about his lateness, but said she knew God would do whatever he asked. Sure enough, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.
Martha and Mary are Christian symbols of the active and the contemplative ways of life.
In John's Gospel, it is Martha who makes the great confession of faith that Simon Peter makes in the other three Gospels: "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God" (in John 11:27).
It was to Martha that Jesus said, "I am the one who raises the dead to life!" (in John 11:25).
Martha's story belatedly became popular among painters in the 16th century, when the Dutch masters used her as an excuse to paint rooms full of veg and utensils.
Martha is the patron saint of servants, cooks and dieticians.
"Mary needs Martha. It is really thanks to Martha that Mary is praised." Silvanus, one of the Desert Fathers
"Remember that there must be someone to cook the meals, and count yourselves happy in being able to serve like Martha." Teresa of Avila, 16th century