This large and imposing painting depicts the story from the Gospel of Saint Luke 10: 38-42, where Christ, traveling with his disciples, is welcomed into
the home of Mary and her sister Martha. The Bible describes how Martha then busied herself preparing the meal, while Mary sat at Christ's feet listening to his words. Martha protested, and asked Christ to tell Mary to help. He responded that "Mary has chosen the better part, which shall not be taken from her." Mary came to symbolize the vita contemplativa
while Martha represented the vita activa, a contrast that was central to the disputes between Catholics and Protestants about the proper path to salvation.
Excerpt taken from Vermeer : The Complete Works
by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr