In one of the gospel’s “summary statements”, Luke provides a rare glimpse into Jesus’ entourage.
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. (Luke 8:2-3, NASB)Though the evangelist will portray them in relatively conventional roles, Luke places a greater emphasis on women than the other canonical gospels, consistently acknowledging their part in Jesus’s ministry. Here, they are placed on equal footing with the disciples (Luke 8:1-3). This text also gives the women the rare dignity of being named. In fact, the way the women are introduced may indicate that they were known to the gospel’s readers.
Luke 8:2-3 foreshadows that these women will be the witnesses to Jesus’ crucifixion and burial (Luke 23:49, 55, 24:1-11). While the other canonical evangelists do not reference the women until the death narratives (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25), Luke builds up the credibility of his prize witnesses by placing them in the company throughout Jesus’ life. Mary Magdalene will play a prominent role in the death narratives in each gospel (Matthew 27:56, 61, 28:1; Mark 15:40, 47, 16:1; Luke 24:10; John 19:25, 20:1-2, 11-18) and Joanna will be seen in a similar context but only in Luke (Luke 24:10). Susanna is never again referenced and nothing is known of her.
Here, the women’s role is that of patron. The verb used of the women is diakoneo from which the word “deacon” is derived (Acts 6:1-6). The women are apparently affluent. Jesus was homeless (Matthew 8:20; Luke 9:58) and somebody had to foot the bills for the itinerant preacher and his companions. When they were sent out two by two, the disciples could depend on the hospitality of strangers (Luke 10:7), but this was not feasible when traveling in a group so large. Luke’s gospel provides a small piece of the puzzle in reconfiguring how Jesus sustained himself.
Leon Morris (1914-2006) praises:
This is valuable as giving us one of the few glimpses we have of the way Jesus’ needs during his ministry were met. We read of the apostolic band as having a common purse from which purchases of food were made and gifts were given to the poor (John 12:39), but not of how it was supplied. Here we learn that these women responded in love and gratitude for what Jesus had done for them (cf. Mark 15:40ff). It seems to have been not uncommon for godly women to help religious teachers, and Jesus speaks of some Pharisees who were evidently quite rapacious (Luke 20:47). It is heart-warming to read of this group of women who supported Jesus. And it is worth reflecting that the Gospels record no woman as ever taking action against him: his enemies were all men (Morris, Luke (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), 165)Though having women benefactors may not have been uncommon, females traveling openly with men was highly unusual (John 4:27). And Luke presents the women’s presence in the traveling outfit as being normative. The phrase “and many others” (Luke 8:3) is in the feminine in Greek meaning that there were other women in the group. The women are also mentioned at the gathering of the early church (Acts 1:13-14). These women were among those who had left home sake of the kingdom (Luke 18:29).
Even the staunchest critics acknowledge the historicity of this point as this is not a detail anyone would create to present their group in a positive light. It appeared improper and likely raised the same questions then that would arise today if women traveled with a charismatic man: Jesus might be seen as a gigolo or the women as his groupies.
Robert C. Tannehill (b. 1934) recognizes:
It is possible that the pictured arrangement reflects the division widespread in ancient and traditional societies between women, who work within the household, and men, who are expected to handle public affairs...Even if verses Luke 8:2-3 do not break with traditional gender roles in all respects, the idea of women wandering through the countryside with an itinerant preacher and his band would be shocking. Maintaining a woman’s sexual honor was very important to her husband and family. Prolonged contact with males outside the family would threaten the honor of the woman and her family. (Tannehill, Luke (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries), 139-140)Ben Witherington III (b. 1951) adds:
Luke 8:1-3 stands in contrast to its historical context in rabbinic Judaism. We know women were allowed to hear the word of God in the synagogue but they were never disciples of a rabbi unless their husband or master was a rabbi willing to teach them. Though a woman might be taught certain negative precepts of the Law out of necessity, this did not mean they would be taught rabbinic explanations of the Torah. It was not uncommon for women to support rabbis and their disciples out of their own money, property, or foodstuffs. But for her to leave home and travel with a rabbi was not only unheard of, it was scandalous. Even more scandalous was the fact that women, both respectable and not, were among Jesus’ traveling companions. Yet it was an intended part of his ministry that women be witnesses from the earliest part of his Galilean ministry until his death, and benefit from his teaching and healing. This involved their traveling with him so they would understand and be prepared for the significance of his resurrection when they were called upon to be the last at the cross, first at the tomb, and first to bear witness to the resurrection (Luke 23:55-24:11). (Levine, “On the Road with Mary Magdalene,” A Feminist Companion to Luke, 134-35)Despite their presence being highly irregular, the women are depicted in a decidedly positively light. Though Mary Magdalene has been painted as a woman of ill repute based upon her hosting seven demons (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2) this is not in the text.
Sharon H. Ringe (b. 1946) clarifies:
“Evil spirits” and “demons” had afflicted these women...and...Jesus had healed them...In the understanding of the gospel writers and their communities such spirits were seen in the physical and emotional pain that people suffered; they did not cause the people they “possessed” to sin or to be morally evil. In fact the only hint that we get about the moral character of these women is their faithful accompaniment of Jesus. Apparently, at least some of them were women of means, but instead of hiding in the comfort wealth could provide or supporting the mission of Jesus from the safety of their homes, they are said to be traveling with him. (Ringe, Luke (Westminster Bible Companion), 112)Joel B. Green (b. 1956) identifies:
These women are...characterized as (1) persons who mirror the graciousness of Jesus’ own benefaction, (2) persons who, like Jesus, “serve” others (cf. Luke 22:24-27), and (3) exemplars of Jesus’ message on faith and wealth...whose lives anticipate Luke’s portrait of early Christian community among whom “no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common” (Acts 4:32)...Luke 8:1-3...parades these women (and not the twelve) as persons who both hear and act on the word of God (Luke 8:21; cf. Luke 6:46-49). (Green, The Gospel of Luke (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 320)Though women are not featured in prominent leadership roles in the gospels, they are presented as being among Jesus’ disciples from his earliest days. As such, their later marginalization does not emanate from any policy of Jesus.
Why were women Jesus’ financial backers? How does the presence of these and other women in Jesus’ ministry speak to women’s involvement in ministry today? Whose ministry can you support financially? Why is Luke the only evangelist that names the women or even includes their early involvement? Why does the evangelist include this potentially scandalous information?
The women are seen as highly independent. Joanna is the only one identified in reference to a man and the reference to her husband, Chuza, has garnered much attention (Luke 8:3). Though Chuza is not referenced in any extrabiblical sources, the Aramaic name does occur in Nabatean and Syrian inscriptions.
Chuza’s exact position is uncertain. He is described as an epitropos, a word used only three times in the New Testament (Matthew 20:8; Luke 8:3; Galatians 4:2). The word is translated “steward” (ASV, HCSB, KJV, NASB, NKJV, NRSV, RSV), ‘manager” (ESV, MSG, NIV, NLT), or “official” (CEV). Most posit that he was either the manager of a royal estate or high ranking official.
Joseph A. Fitzmyer (b. 1920) defines:
The title epitropos (used only here in the Lucan writings) cannot be understood as the Greek equivalent of Latin praefectus or procurator...It should rather by understood as “manager” of Herod’s estate (see Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 18.6,6 §194). (Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX: Introduction, Translation, and Notes (The Anchor Bible), 698)The connection to Herod is tantalizing. Herod is introduced as tetrarch of Galilee in Luke 3:1 and will frequently reappear in the narrative (Luke 9:7-9, 13:31, 23:7-12).
Jonathan Marshall (b. 1978) conjectures:
Joanna was probably from Tiberius since her husband served Antipas who moved his capital to the new city...For Joanna, her husband’s occupation..and therefore boss (Antipas), brought her into the inner circles of Galilean politics. Joanna might have been the conduit through which Jesus learned of Antipas’ feelings towards him and of how Antipas learned of the ministry of Jesus (Luke 9:7)...He [Jesus] could have an insider’s look at Antipas’ motivations for constructing Tiberias and relocating its people. (Marshall, Jesus, Patrons, and Benefactors: Roman Palestine and the Gospel of Luke, 180-181)Luke’s access to Joanna and Manaen (Acts 13:1) also explains the evangelist’s intimate knowledge of Herod’s household.
The fact that Joanna was married also begs the question as to the nature of Joanna’s and Chuza’s relationship. Frédéric Louis Godet (1812-1900) speculates that Chuza was the royal officer in John’s gospel whose son Jesus healed (John 4:46-53).
Conversely, Heidi Bright Parales (b. 1961) surmises that Joanna left her husband to follow Jesus:
What man of Herod’s court—a royal minister of finance—would stand for his wife traipsing around the countryside with a ragtag band of rural folk, following a radical preacher who behaved in shocking ways?...Joanna had left not only her wealthy husband but also all the advantages of court life to follow Jesus. She left family and influence, although she continued to have enough wealth to help support the disciples and Jesus. She may well have provided the seamless robe Jesus wore, as well as a comfortable location for the Last Supper—things fishermen’s wives could not have supplied. (Parales, Hidden Voices: Biblical Women and Our Christian Heritage, 39)Joanna’s background likely did her no favors in her new family as most of Jesus’ followers had experienced high taxes from her husband’s employer. Richard Bauckham (b. 1946), who theorizes that Joanna was a prominent liaison for Jesus and one and the same as the apostle named Junia (Romans 16:7), writes:
Among these people, her status brought her no honor, not even her substantial donations to the common fund gave her a place above others. But instead she found a place in what Jesus called his new family of those who were practicing the will of God, his sisters and brothers and mothers, who were therefore also sisters and brothers and mothers to each other. (Bauckham, Gospel Women: Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels, 196)Luke 8:1-3 in general and Joanna in particular speak to the vast scope of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus breaks economic and class divisions. Followers are not discouraged because of their gender or wealth. Jesus’ message appeals to the wealthy (Acts 13:1, 7, 12, 26-39, 18:8, 19:31) as well as the poor. Joanna is evidence that Christianity has penetrated to high places.
The three women listed represent diverse levels of social standing with presumably only one common bond: Jesus. Their love for Jesus was greater than their many differences.
Did Jesus exclude anyone based upon the demographic they represented? Who does your church exclude? Should anyone be excluded?
“No culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive.” - Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)