Sacred Encounters Lesson Four

November 15, 2023
Lesson 4 artwork: Parting Bread by Kathleen Peterson
Lesson 4 artwork: Parting Bread by Kathleen Peterson

Lesson Four: Mary and Martha Encounter Jesus

Scripture: Luke 10:38–42

“Jesus calls us to value the role of each person in the community of faith”

Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675) was a Dutch artist known mainly for his paintings of people in their homes. You may know of his paintings Girl with the Pearl Earring and Young Woman with a Water Pitcher. Vermeer’s genius lay in his ability to capture the soul and inner life of his subjects. He could transfix images in suspended silence, and transform ordinary, everyday images into eternal reflections of feeling and passion.

The people in Vermeer’s paintings go about their everyday lives in grace and dignity. His use of strong light and color and his broad handling of the paint show the influences of Caravaggio and the Utrecht school on his art.

One of Vermeer’s paintings, Christ in the House of Mary and Martha (1654), hangs in the National Gallery of Scotland. Its large size (63” x 56”) suggests that it may have been a commissioned piece. It is believed to be his earliest surviving work and his only known painting on a biblical theme. Vermeer’s depiction creates an intimate interaction among his subjects, their close-up treatment drawing us into the story.

Lesson four is about the account of Jesus’ visit to the home of Mary and Martha. Vermeer’s rendering of this familiar story depicts the three friends in a room together. It shows Jesus speaking and Mary and Martha in rapt attention.

Find the painting at the library or online. But before you ponder the painting take time to slowly, and meditatively, read the story of Jesus’ visit with the two sisters. The complete account is found in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10, verses 38–42. If you know the story well, try to read it as if you are reading it for the first time. As you read, notice any images or thoughts that come to mind. When you have your own image of the story in your imagination, look closely at Vermeer’s painting. Sit quietly and comfortably, without any distractions. Prayerfully seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit and ask that your eyes and heart be opened to the spiritual realities the painting presents.

What is your interpretation of Jesus’ visit with Mary and Martha?

Olive Mahabir
author of the 2023-2024 PW/Horizons Bible Study


This blog is the fourth in a series of nine blogs written by the study’s author Olive Mahabir. A new blog will be posted every month between now and April 2024.

Presbyterian Women in the PC(USA), Inc. publishes an annual Bible study. Sacred Encounters is the study for this year. You can purchase a Sacred Encounters Bible study book (HZN23100) and study along with us. Call 800/533-4371 or order online.