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A tale of two sisters

by Alan M. Barker

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)


To affirm that we are all different and all have a place in school and our families.

Preparation and materials

  • Familiarize yourself with the narrative set out below, which could also be effectively presented using three voices.
  • You will need a leader, plus two other adults or children to read the parts of Martha and Mary in Step 2 if you opt to present the assembly using three voices.
  • A focus table could be set up, contrasting some pots and pans with a small pile of books.


  1.  Invite the children to quietly reflect on when they last argued with a brother, sister or friend. Observe that, from time to time, disagreements happen. Not everyone is the same. Sometimes an argument arises over a task that needs to be done.

  2. Introduce the Bible story below, which is about two sisters. They shared the same home (with their brother Lazarus), but had very different personalities. Invite the children to listen carefully. Which of the sisters are they most like?

    A tale of two sisters

    Martha loved to keep busy.                   Mary loved to think.
    Martha could be very impatient.           Mary was very calm.
    Martha loved cooking.                           Mary didn’t!

    So, when Martha and Mary invited Jesus to their home this happened.

    Martha laid the table.                            Mary sat on the floor.
    Martha watched the oven.                    Mary listened to Jesus.
    Martha cooked the dinner.                   Mary didn’t!

    Martha was hot in the kitchen.             Mary stayed in the cool.
    A pot boiled over.                                  Mary didn’t realize.

    Finally, Martha’s anger boiled over too! ‘Mary, what kind of sister are you? Jesus, tell her to come and help me!’

    ‘Martha,’ Jesus replied, ‘I know you’re upset, but Mary is enjoying a special time that she’ll always remember.’

    So Martha returned to her cooking  . . .  Mary carried on listening.

  3. Allow the children to respond to the story  . . .  What advice would they offer to Martha and Mary? Did Mary eventually help Martha to serve her special meal and to clear up afterwards? Was her sister’s plea for help ignored?

  4. Observe that this story reflects the frustration we feel when people don’t behave in accordance with our wishes or do what we feel they should do. Explain that strong friendships allow others the freedom to be themselves. Such friendships also mean, however, being sensitive to one another’s feelings and ready to help. As Martha and Mary discovered, this balance can sometimes be difficult to keep. Jesus encouraged the two sisters to understand their different gifts and needs.

Time for reflection

Invite the children to reflect on how both helping and listening will be/have been important in their school day. 

Lord God,
Sometimes we get cross and frustrated with our sisters, brothers and friends.
We’re sorry for the occasions when we lose our tempers.
Help us to think about the feelings of others, to allow one another space and to offer help when we can.


‘Kum ba yah, my Lord, Kum ba yah’ (Come and Praise,68)

Publication date: May 2014   (Vol.16 No.5)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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