The Ministering Women
After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven devils had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
Most of us have a slightly skewed mental picture of Jesus and his disciples during their wanderings through Palestine. Perhaps we’ve all been too much influenced by Sunday School pictures showing only thirteen men in robes and leather girdles walking along, each with staff in hand.
Now, how do you suppose those thirteen men got food and lodging during their travels? Did they go about with begging bowls like Asian monks?
Of course sometimes they were invited to eat with friends — but not every day. Of course Jesus fed the five thousand — but even then he didn’t conjure up the loaves and fishes out of nothing. Sometimes the New Testament tells us that the disciples went to buy food — but where did they get the money to buy it with?
Read again the verses above. Luke 8:1-3 makes it clear that there were women as well as men who walked where Jesus walked. Who were they? Comparing several references scattered throughout the four Gospels, we may learn the names of some of them:
1) Mary Magdalene;
2) Mary the wife of Clopas;
3) Mary the mother of that disciple known as James the Less (she might also have been the same as Mary number two);
4) Salome, wife of Zebedee and mother of James and John (and apparently a sister to Mary the mother of Jesus);
5) Susanna; and
6) Joanna, who — strange as it seems — was the wife of a highly placed official at the court of King Herod Antipas.
In addition to those whose names we know, Luke 8:3 states that there were also “many others.” When Jesus and his entourage made that last fateful trip to Jerusalem, we know that his mother Mary joined in with the other women. Perhaps it was always a somewhat fluid group. The Gospels tell us that Jesus sometimes sent out the Twelve, sometimes made a special assignment to only two of them, sometimes called only three of them to join him. Would it not have been natural for the group of ministering women also to have swelled or shrunk as needs and situations changed?
Luke’s descriptive note about the woman called Joanna may have been especially significant. Since her husband was Herod’s steward or household manager, she probably had some funds at her disposal. Salome’s husband Zebedee had prospered as a commercial fisherman to the point that he was helped by hired servants as well as by his own two sons; perhaps Salome also got money from home sometimes.
Throughout twenty centuries of Christian history there have been greathearted women who have banded together like sisters to perform many types of ministries. How fitting that at the very beginning there were those brave ministering women with Jesus and the Twelve! How fitting that their last sad service for their Master miraculously turned into a morning of overwhelming joy!
Prayerfully read their memories, reconstructed through imagination in this Bible-based poetic meditation:
We each had something to be thankful for:
Some illness healed, our spirits calmed to rest.
So when our Master took the road once more,
we served him in the ways that we knew best.
It isn’t easy feeding thirteen men;
we often had to scrimp and improvise.
Joanna got some money now and then:
You’d be surprised how much a few coins buys.
Then, all the sewing! Traveling is hard
on robes and tunics; soon they’re full of holes.
Why, even leather can get scratched and scarred:
We mended belts, and sandal strings and soles.
We walked the dusty lanes of Galilee;
across the Jordan; down the Roman ways;
and once or twice we even got to see
the Holy City on the festal days.
That last trip to Jerusalem was strange.
Our Master rode in triumph up the hill.
Yet all too soon we sensed a subtle change:
No shouts or glad hosannas; all was still.
In all our serving, never did we think
our ministries for Jesus would conclude
with buying fragrant spice to mask the stink
of lacerated flesh and gouts of blood.
Rejoice, O sisters! Put your spice away.
The stone is moved, the rocky tomb is bare.
Our Master lives again! Now from this day,
we’ll go and tell the glad news everywhere.
O our living Lord, help all of us — women, men, and children — to serve you and yours as unselfishly as those ministering women did in olden times! Amen.
Copyright © 2016 by Perry Thomas