Today is the feastday of Saint Martha in the Lutheran, Episcopal and Catholic churches. In many traditions, Martha is the second of three siblings from Bethany: Lazarus is the older brother, Mary is the youngest sister, understood by many (though not all) denominations to be Mary Magdalene.
According to the Bible, Martha was the dedicated hostess at a gathering of the disciples. She also demonstrates great faith in Jesus in the Gospel of John. In the moving aftermath of her Lazarus's death, she proclaims upon Jesus's arrival, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died". In another early Christian scriptures, The Apocalypse of James, Martha is mentioned as one of four women who posess special wisdom and knowledge, and who are to be specially encouraged in their own ministry.
In the French tradition, the entire family arrived in Marseilles in the boat from Bethany, and each sibling set off to preach and teach in a different direction. Martha wound her way to the village of Tarascon, where she tamed a savage beast that was ravaging the city (according to medieval stories, this was "half beast and half fish, greater than an ox, longer than an horse, having teeth sharp as a sword, and horned on either side, head like a lion, tail like a serpent"). The Golden Legend, amplifying themes to be found in the Gospel of Luke, portrays Martha as a woman of strong virtue, sober practicality and good sense who became a wise spiritual leader in her own right.
Martha is a saint in need of recovery. Too long she has languished in the shadows, diminished by the implicit criticism that while she busied herself with the household tasks, contemplative Mary "choose the better part". Teresa of Avila, with her great insight, saw Mary and Martha as being the left and right hands of each of us, that we all need to balance contemplation (which you can see Mary Magdalene embodies so beautifully in the painting by Vermeer, to the left) with action (the place which Martha holds as she prepares the meal ) and "marry the two sisters in our hearts".