The Women Who Traveled with Jesus
In Part Three Session Four a scriptureal passage was highlighted from Luke 8:1-3:
"And it came about soon afterwards that He began going about from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God, and the twelve were with Him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward and Susanna and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means. "
So what do we know about the women mentioned here by Luke?
*Some, if not all of them, had been healed from sickness and delivered from evil spirits by Jesus;
*There were many whose names are not mentioned but who helped with financial support for Jesus and the twelve;
*The scriptures indicate these women gave financially to Jesus' ministry from their own private means (not from their husband's or brother's income). The Greek word used in this phrase for 'their' is "autais", a feminine plural word, indicating the women were using money that belonged to them personally.
*Only three of them are named individually in this passage: Mary who was called Magdalene, Joanna the wife of Chuza and Susanna.
Mary of Magdala, or Mary Magdalene:
Mary was called Magdalene after Magdala, the Galilean town she came from. We may assume Mary from Magdala was an unmarried woman, otherwise normal practice would be to name her as 'wife of.........". Church tradition has grown up around Mary from Magdala suggesting she was a former prostitute. However, neither the Bible nor historical records give any indication this was the case. She has often been confused with the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11 or the woman 'who was a sinner' from Luke 7:37-48, but this confusion came into the church from non-Biblical sources and has been perpetuated throughout history through art, literature, Hollywood movies and such theatrical shows as "Jesus Christ Superstar". In fact there is no Biblical passage at all that indicates Mary of Magdala had ever been a prostitute. We do know from scripture she had been tormented by seven demons.
Around the sixth century, the Catholic Church under Pope Gregory began to identify Mary Magdalene as a woman of loose morals because they equated her demonic oppression with sexual uncleanness. Jesus, however, always distinguished demonization from wilful sin. He rebuked sin and delivered the demonized. Prior to her healing and deliverance, Mary could well have been suffering from what would now be identified as any one of several mental illnesses, or some form of self-destructive behaviour. There is absolutely no Biblical basis for assuming she was a prostitute. Another thing we can surmise about Mary is that she was a woman of financial independence since she was free to contribute to the itinerant ministry of Jesus and the twelve. Mary was not only among the 'many women' disciples of Jesus who stayed with Him at His crucifixion (Matthew 27:55), she is the only person mentioned in the gospels who witnessed Christ's death, His burial and His resurrection (Mark 15:40; Matthew 27:56, John 19:25)
Joanna the Wife of Chuza
Very little is known about Joanna. The scriptures tell us she was married to Chuza who was a steward in King Herod's court. It can be assumed therefore that Joanna was a wealthy and influential woman who had been healed by Jesus. Her husband held a high ranking and prominent role as steward (overseer) to Herod which would have required him to carry out important responsibilities. As Herod's steward, Chuza would have been well known in Galilee, a man of status and highly respected. We can only imagine what cost Joanna paid in terms of personal reputation and comfort to be among those women who travelled with Jesus. Joanna, along with Mary Magdalene, was one of several women who first told the eleven apostles that Jesus was risen (Luke 24:1-10).
Again, it is probable that Susanna was an unmarried woman because she is not listed as 'wife of........' Apart from the fact that she was among a group of women who ministered to Jesus and provided for the continuation of His ministry from their own wealth, we know nothing of Susanna except the fact that her name in Hebrew is Shoshanna, meaning 'lily".
Other Women Disciples of Jesus
Other women disciples who are mentioned by name briefly in the gospels are Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary the mother of James and Joses, Salome, the un-named mother of Zebedee's children, and Mary the wife of Cleophas (Matt. 27:56, John 19:25).
Much has been said about the patriarchal culture these women lived in and the general belief of the day that women were created primarily to meet the physical demands of men and for childrearing. To be respected and loved by friends and family as a wife, mother and home-maker was the highest aspiration to which a Jewish woman in the time of Jesus could hope. What did it cost these women, therefore, to literally follow Jesus out on to the road as He ministered in the villages and cities?
We know it cost them money, which they appear to have given willingly and abundantly. It would no doubt have cost some of them personal comfort. As women with their own wealth they would have enjoyed certain daily comforts in normal life, possibly even having servants of their own. Most of all, I believe, they would have paid the cost in reputation. Travelling with a large group of men as they did, they would have been the objects of gossip and innuendo that reached even to the court of Herod. Their story challenges us modern day women disciples of Jesus with a confronting question: Could we just as willingly give up the respect of close family and friends, and sacrifice our 'good' reputations if Jesus asked us to? How would we deal with the insinuations about our motives or our mental health should He require us to equally leave all and follow Him onto the highways and the byways? After all, these women of means could easily have provided financial support for Jesus and his rag-tag band of disciples while still remaining safe and comfortable at home. But they didn't. They not only gave of their wealth, they gave of themselves. They opted not just to give, but to follow.
Have you ever noticed that what is often considered admirable and worthy if you're a male is frowned on as foolish and eccentric if you happen to be a female? When a man leaves his home, family and his lifestyle to take up a cause about which he has become passionate he is said to be "following his heart" 'marching to the beat of a different drum' or 'doing what he has to do'. A woman with exactly the same call on her, however, will often be whispered about as being 'above her station", ' having a loose wire' or worst of all, 'under the influence of a man'.
Thank God that He has given us the examples of Mary of Magdala, Joanna, Susanna and the 'many others' of the female gender who came under the "influence of a Man", followed Him, saw Him die, witnessed His Resurrection and then watched as He ascended to the Father. What became of these women individually after Jesus ascended we cannot know. We can be certain, however, that whatever they faced through the trials and persecutions of the New Testament church, they faced with courage and total devotion to that Man, Jesus Christ. Not only had He healed and delivered them, but never had He been ashamed to walk with them on the road. Never had He counted their fellowship and companionship as less valuable than that of His male disciples.
May God raise up such an army of women once again!