King Arthur’s Queen Guinevere baffles him. Like Arthur every other man is perplexed too. We don’t know what makes her tick or what she wants. In the Broadway play ‘Camelot’ King Arthur muses to himself. He cannot figure Guinevere out. I so identify with him. King Arthur remembers Merlin the Magician teaching him about the animals. Merlin turned him into a beaver to teach him about beavers. Arthur says, ‘I should have had the whirl to change into a girl to learn the way the creatures think’. ‘How to handle a woman?’ he wonders. ‘Ah, yes’ he remembers. Merlin said, ‘The way to handle a woman is to love her, love her, merely love her…’
The prolific crime and mystery novelist Ruth Rendell knew what woman want. The hero in her novels is Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford. Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford exemplifies what woman want in man. She used to get tons of female fans telling her they wanted to marry Chief Inspector Wexford. Ruth knows the reason: Chief Inspector Wexford answers what woman want (1) he makes them laugh (2) he ‘likes women very much and always has time for them’. (W Post, Obituaries, May 3, 2015)
Jesus fulfills a woman’s deep want and need more than any man. Why have so many women over history followed Him? He did what Ruth Rendell said: he shows he likes women. A revolution occurred because He dignifies them. He accepts women as having standing. As men, Jesus gives women access to Himself. He always has time for them. He pays them attention. I want to try to show how the account of Martha, Mary and Jesus makes this clear. How their want of Him made Him the one thing necessary in their lives.
Jesus entered Martha and Mary’s village of Bethany. Bethany is just over the crest of the Mt. of Olives. Martha ‘welcomed’ Jesus into her home. Martha is the only woman I can think of who invited Jesus into her home. Taking the initiative to do so took self- confidence. It tells us she was friendly toward Jesus and his ministry. Jesus did not decline Martha because she was a woman. Perhaps Martha could do it because her home was large enough to accommodate Jesus and his disciples.
Martha’s sister Mary was also there. When Jesus entered, Mary followed the Lord. She took her place at His feet. She begins listening to what he was saying. This is radical. Jewish teachers were generally opposed to women learning. Jesus not only lets her sit at his feet. As we shall see, he expects her, a woman, to listen and learn. This is still controversial in 2017. The Taliban says the Moslem Quran does not allow women to be educated. If Jesus entered your house, would you be sitting there with him? Where was Martha?
Martha was ‘distracted. She is overburdened by the various tasks of hosting guests. She is anxious to provide a fine dinner and comfortable hospitality for her special guests. Every host knows the tension between being with your company and attending to the ongoing preparation for dinner. Guest’s hands and feet need washing; heads need oil; towels for drying; fire for cooking tended; meat prepared and cooked; the vegetables, the bread, the deserts, and water drawn. The tables have to be set with your best utensils and crockery/china. The candles filled with oil and lit. Flowers put in vases.
Our first Thanksgiving dinner as newlyweds Pam and I hosted my parents. It was nerve-wracking for Pam. Pam had never prepared a turkey in her life. This was her first dinner for the in-laws. She knew none of the recipes my parents enjoyed. She baked a cake from scratch. It was three layers. When I cut the cake, it crumbled into bread crumbs. She had iced the outside, but forgot to ice between the layers!
After all, Martha is entertaining Jesus! The Prophet who taken the world by storm! Martha is just plain stressed out. She wants to give him an impressive dinner. But she is feeling put upon. With all that needs to be done, her sister is sitting there with Jesus. Martha leaves her preparations and makes her way to Jesus. If she appeals to Jesus, Jesus will tell Mary to help. Mary will listen to the Master. The Holy One will enlighten Mary to her injustice and selfishness. ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?’ Tell her then to help me’. ‘Tell her to do her share.’ Tell her to pitch in. ‘Many hands make work light’ my mother would say.
But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha’. Saying her name twice shows his strong interest in her. There are many people around him but He considers her. ‘Martha, Martha, you’re worried and distracted about much.’ You’ve been thrown into undue disorder and trouble. These ‘worldly’ matters are too much oppressing you. Things have gotten out of perspective. You’re in overload. For a lot of people, life moves at a chaotic clip. It’s an all too typical woman’s – yes, man’s too – but particularly a woman’s concern today. She is working a stressful job; she’s trying to be a good mother/wife. Women typically bear the brunt of the responsibilities of family and home. Maybe she is also taking a night class to work on her degree. I heard of a single woman holding two jobs; her father had Alzheimer’s in a care facility; her mother who lives with her has a health issue; and she is raising children. ‘Martha, Martha’.
Was Martha ‘multi-tasking’? She was trying to juggle multiple tasks. ‘Multitasking’ is our word for today for juggling the overload of many duties. ‘Multitasking’ is doing two or more cognitively complex things at the same time. Dr. Frances E. Jensen, a U of Penn neuroscientist, says ‘multitasking’ is a myth. Yes, you can chew gum and watch the baby at the same time. That’s not multitasking. But you cannot make cordon Bleu and solve a problem with your boss on the phone at the same time. If you try to do them at the same time your brain has to switch back and forth constantly. You do neither well. Focusing on more than one complex task is virtually impossible. If you’re a teen – or Tom Thomas – it is impossible!
‘Martha, Martha, you’re worried and distracted about much.’ Are you too? Jesus continued. ‘But one is necessary’; ‘there is one need; ‘there is need of only one thing’. Simplify. ‘Mary has chosen the good portion’. The word ‘portion’ connotes ‘food’. Jesus puns, ‘Mary has chosen the better food.’ What food did Mary choose? Jesus…the bread of life. She chose to sit with and listen to Him. What food did Martha choose? The bread…of the kitchen. Given the choice between life’s duties, responsibilities, vocations, and avocations and Jesus, Jesus ranks above them all. Which are you choosing? Which is your practice? Which is your first priority? Is everything else second to Him? What if Martha had done that? Driven, Type A people are asking who would have provided the beautiful arrangements of food and drink? Better to have Jesus and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich than a Better Homes and Garden banquet without him. Jesus consistently messages this: to the rich young ruler: sell everything, give to the poor, then come and follow me; to the man who wanted to bury his father before following Jesus. Jesus said, ‘Let the dead bury the dead, follow me.’ Martha doesn’t realize who is in her midst. Few people do. In him is ‘the fullness of deity dwelling bodily’…the One who is before all things… ‘the one who is to have first place in everything’ .
Here is the man women want – the man women need; a man who likes women; loves women; wants them to learn from Him, to be with Him and He with them. He would rather have Martha than a well- appointed home; He would rather have Martha than appetizing cuisine; He would rather have her than fine hospitality. He wants Martha for herself; not for anything she can give him. Where have you heard of such a man? Where have you heard of such a holy man, or spiritual leader? Take the holy one the Buddha as an example. The Buddha said to his disciple Ananda: ‘Women are stupid, Ananda; that is the reason, Ananda…why women have no place in public assemblies…’
Jesus shows as much interest in her as a man. He invests in her worth: invites her to join his circle; wills her to be his disciple; believes she is just responsible as a man to God; just as capable of hearing, understanding and learning as a man. This is a watershed for woman in history.
Women respond to Jesus. He’s what they want. He’s what they need. They’ve heeded his word to Martha. They have made Jesus their first portion –the one thing necessary. He has fulfilled their deep want and need. Probably in greater numbers in church history than men…in different ways: as wives…as mothers…a martyrs…as activists…as writers…as teachers…as evangelists…in mission…to great effect. Perpetua was a 22 year old new mother. She was imprisoned by the Romans with her infant for declaring she followed Christ. The proconsul told her he would release her if she said, ‘Caesar is lord’. Her father begged her to lie. She would not. She said, ‘Jesus is Lord’. She so wanted Jesus, when made to decide, she chose him above her father, her child, and her own life. Her witness lives on today.
Mademoiselle De La Mothe, better known as Madam Guyon, was a teenage girl in Paris. She was smart and beautiful. She was tall and well built. She had a Grecian countenance, high forehead and brilliant eyes, and a noble sweetness. She thought a lot of herself. She spent a good part of the day in front of the mirror. At 17, she fell deathly sick. She was not expected to live. As she languished, her sins haunted her. She realized her self had been her religion. She knew she was out of favor with God. She recovered. See sought God. The only way she knew to try to get God’s acceptance was earn it: she began to do good works. It didn’t take away her sorrow for her sin. Then she came to understand loving Jesus Christ is a matter of the heart. Then she came to know personally Jesus Christ not by doing righteous works, but by faith. Now, she said, ‘For I had now no sight but of Jesus Christ’ . She was sorrowful of her wasted past. Why was she so late in finding Jesus? ‘Why’ she wondered, ‘have I known thee so late? Alas, I sought you where you were not, and did not seek you where you were!’ She wrote the name of her Saviour in large characters and attached it to her person. She wanted to be reminded continually of Him. She wrote poems and letters for Christ. She influenced circles of Christians and mystic theologians like Francis Fenelon.
What do women want? What do you want? They want the One who accepts and honors them; the One who wants to be with them; who wants them to be in his company and they in his; the One who loves them - they want Jesus Christ! He is the one thing necessary. Is He for you the One necessity?