There are certain things I have seen that I know are going to stay with me forever.
I’m sure you have some too.
And after the shock, I feel guilt. Guilt that I have so much. Guilt that I’m so blessed. I’ve had an education, my parents love me, I am healthy, I have a home full of unnecessary, pretty things. How do I live with that – as I watch suffering? I am a rich woman (OK -not compared to the Beckhams, but compared to so many!).
What would God have me do with these blessings? The parable of the talents (Matt 25.14-30 ) gives us some clues but there is also an unsung woman who gives us a concrete example.
“Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the Kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.”
After the crucifixion
“But at the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling robes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, he has risen. Remember how he told you , while he was still in Galilee, that the son of man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified and on the third day rise again.’ The they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle talk and they did not believe them.”
Now here’s a lady we don’t talk about much (…and we really should!) In fact she only has two direct mentions in the gospels and yet she clearly was a disciple of Jesus.
‘What?’ I hear you cry – ‘There were 12 disciples and they were men…we all know that!’
Well, the text tells us that Joanna belonged to a group of women who traveled with Jesus, the twelve – and a wider group too, ‘all the rest’. And ‘the women’ are mentioned at strategic points in Jesus’ 3 year ministry. The implication being that they were with him a lot – if not all of the time!
Culturally it’s remarkable that that included woman (many rabbis believed that it was better to burn the scriptures than teach them to women!)
So Jesus has a group he travels with, who are learning from him, trying to be like him, who he is training up to continue spreading his teaching (that’s what rabbi’s did!) Our girl is one of those followers -disciples –
So how is she an inspiration, a role model to us? In our culture the church is full of women – statistically what we are lacking is men who follow Jesus. Being a woman disciple of Jesus is really not that revolutionary. So Joanna – what can we learn from you?
She is “The wife of Herod’s steward, Chuza.“ A phrase easily skipped over as apparently unnecessary information. But it’s there for a reason and if we think for a minute – Herod - Roman puppet ruler of the province. Hmm...
He is also the man who married his brother’s wife, arrested John the Baptist for speaking out against that and ultimately executed him after the whole ‘dancing daughter’ episode (Mark 6).
Herod is a powerful man, with powerful friends. Joanna’s husband is this man’s steward. His highest-ranking servant, someone trusted and respected within the Roman influenced society that had power, influence and wealth. Fundamentally Joanna is a rich woman, a significant woman – ok, so not ruling class but definitely moving within that sphere. A sphere of ambition, intrigue, deception, face saving – politics really hasn’t changed much!
Yet where do we find her?
Following round an itinerant Jewish rabbi - a former carpenter, and hanging out with his disciples; fishermen, tax collectors, peasants, former prostitutes, delivered demoniacs. Certainly not ladies who lunch or the affluent high society surrounding Herod’s court. Joanna has downsized in a major way – one wonders what her husband and the court of Herod thought? Certainly she is taking a blow to her status, her reputation. She has swapped a life of affluence and status for an uncertain one with a radical – even revolutionary teacher who consorts with the poor, the unclean, and the outcasts.
The modern equivalent? Umm… desperate housewives leave it all behind to join the Salvation Army?
And according to the text she uses her money to back Jesus’ ministry. To buy food & lodging for this poverty-stricken rabble who are making themselves unpopular with Jewish and Roman authorities alike. On HER cash they are defying the values and power of the class she belongs to! And she stays loyal – even as officials she may have personally known crucify her rabbi. She chooses Jesus over opportunity, career and class. She takes sides – with Jesus against her peers… that is brave! And let’s be honest the male disciples didn’t believe her story about angels and resurrection and all that! Her new peers don’t respect her much either!
We could get all spiritual here and say “eternal” (which is absolutely true) but she must have looked like a lunatic to her peers and friends, maybe even her husband. Joanna is fundamentally a brave, generous, lady. An affluent woman who uses the blessings God has given her to bless others, and further a ministry that is seeing the captives freed and the poor given hope. The way she does it is really interesting though.
Lots of us give to charity, to church, to missions, to the things that touch our hearts but having spent some time in a mission agency I noticed an interesting phenomenon in Christian giving. The general rule of thumb (in my experience at least) was the poorer and riskier the geographical location the more generous people are. So slums bring in the cash, but those who stay to minister in Europe or the UK – well the money just doesn’t come in the same way!
How do you explain that? Is it cynical to suggest its “Please don’t make ME go!” money?
As a nation we give with spectacular generosity to the tsunami victims – and so we should - but often we are not that fussed about poverty stricken families on our doorsteps! How come?
Obviously he was being ironic – but I think Joanna is a role model because she did the exact opposite of this. She didn’t throw her money at a worthy ministry from a distance and ease her conscience in doing so. She took her money with her and went to get her hands dirty with the lepers, the prostitutes and the demoniacs - like Jesus and the rest of his followers.
Now that makes us think eh? A lot of us assume that someone else will go, and if we are in the fortunate position to give then that is our contribution. Don’t get me wrong, I DO believe that is what some of us ARE asked to do that by God, probably more of us than currently are! (Surely so many churches and ministries shouldn’t always be in financial crisis- even in a credit crunch!) However, have you ever asked yourself the question – ‘should I be going as well?’
What about the homeless in your town?
What about the struggling mums living on benefit?
What about the elderly who can only afford to heat one room this winter?
What about the working girls in the red light part of town?
What about living among and committing to them?
What about building real relationships and really loving them?
This is still radical 2000 years later.
The gospels suggest to me that she’d be getting her hands dirty, offering people a hope and a future and financially blessing people where it was appropriate, were she could – even if her peers and friends despise or think her foolish for doing it. Even if her lifestyle takes a hit, even if she has to downsize – shop at ALDI not Sainsbury’s, take holidays in Cornwall not California, buy the things she needed rather than those she wanted. Jesus said that to those given much, much is expected. It’s not the number of talents we have, but how we use them. Those of us with five may need to think about that – God blessed us for a reason, to pass the blessing on!
Joanna didn’t do a rich, condescending, ‘help the poor people’ thing. She gave up a lot to follow a man she believed in and to love the people he loved…the despised, the poor, the oppressed.
Sound like a role model for us?
Sound like things we could be doing rather than sitting feeling guilty?
Not to ease our consciences but to genuinely steward what we’ve been given?
I think so!
© Ruth Perrin 2009. Last revised on 18 September 2009
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Cloud of Witnesses is a series of Bible studies on the men and women of scripture. You'll find everyone from Gideon and Andrew through to Tamar and Tabitha.
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Ruth Perrin, the author, is on staff at King's Church Durham and holds an MA in Theology and Ministry.
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