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  • Writer's pictureNorthminster Church

"Lesser Known Women of the Bible - Joanna"

Psalm 126 and Luke 8: 1-3, 54-56, & 24:1-12

It started with an ending. An ending to the illness that dominated my daily routine, my marriage, my life. An illness that became a physical divide, my husband, didn’t have the time or inclination to ford. It’s not, however, as though Chuza and I were ever a good match. His world was his work and his position as Herod Antipas’ steward dominated his life.

It left no time for us to get to know each other. To move beyond the less-than-complete groundwork that comes with an arranged marriage. We weren’t unhappy as you talk about in your modern marriages so much as we were two separate people who remained separate in spite of our union. But Chuza provided well and was generous with me. So much so that after I heard chatter about an itinerant preacher who was healing people and decided to join the crowd going to hear this man preach, Chuza looked the other way.

I was secretly hoping the man could heal me but was also quite sure such a thing wasn’t possible. Mostly, I was prepared to return home to Chuza, the same person I’d always been. But encountering Jesus changed me. Changed my body. Changed my heart, my way of thinking, my whole world.

It turns out his ability to heal was quite real. Jesus healed me and several other women who saw what I saw; Jesus was more than a healer and his power came from something greater. Or I should say, someone greater. From our first encounter, I was intrigued and a little scared for this wonderfully peculiar man who inspired such loyalty in his followers.

In fact, I went home after that first meeting wanting to be one of them. Wanting to learn from and follow this man. Wanting to be part of the community he created around himself. Wanting to be part of what we came to call “The Way” or what some of your modern scholars called “The Jesus Movement.”

Speaking of your modern scholars they are divided as to how my sisters and I - for I was far from the only woman in the movement - followed the Teacher. Did our travel consist of day trips to meet Jesus when he was close to our hometowns? Or did we travel with him and the other male disciples, dependent as they were “on hospitality in various Galilean cities and villages?”[1] Did my own husband know about my attachment to his movement?

Those questions will have to remain as they are, though I suspect Chuza had some awareness of my involvement with Jesus. His position didn’t allow him to be unaware or unintelligent. What I can tell you about is the place Jesus provided for me and other women. This is an important distinction about which I take a measure of pride, for not all those who came to Jesus for healing stayed with him as Mary Magdalene, Susanna, and I did.

Think of the stories you know: the paralytic in Luke 5, the sinful woman in Luke 7, the Gerasene demoniac, and the woman with the hemorrhage in Luke 8. Like me, they were all in need of healing. Unlike me, they “[were] all told to go rather than to follow.”[2] Unlike me they were not “invited to follow [Jesus] or to be with him.”[3] But we, my sisters and I, were with Jesus when Luke gave our names, healed, and invited by the Teacher.

In response we served, we diekonoun from the Greek verb diakoneo from which you get your word “deacon.”[4] We took from our resources to provide for Jesus and each other, sharing what we had partially in gratitude but mostly because that’s what you do in a community. You share, you serve, you give without worrying about what you’ll get back. That’s the mark of a deacon and the baseline of our shared humanity, yours, and mine all these centuries removed.

But there’s a downside to this following and serving. It’s easy to get caught up in the bubble. In the joy of being part of a community of choice in which behaviors and ways of thinking become normalized. Eventually, though you have to return to the real world, the world outside your bubble, the world in which your Teacher has pushed too many buttons. Has angered too many religious leaders and pointed out one too many times that the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.

That’s what Jesus did. He pointed out hypocrisy and injustice. He made people uncomfortable and made people think. He threatened entrenched systems of power, religious assumptions, and broken political reasoning and they killed him for it. They killed him because they felt threatened and uncomfortable and didn’t want to hear what he had to say anymore. They killed him because people were starting to listen. They killed him to silence him.

The worst part is he tried to warn us. Tried to tell us his execution was coming, But of course, we didn’t listen. Couldn’t listen while we were in the bubble. My joy at having found my place was simply too loud to hear what the Teacher was trying to tell us. Yes, his clashes with the religious leaders were uncomfortable, sometimes even hostile. But Jesus was helping and healing and teaching so many people! I simply didn’t think about it ending.

Then I found myself standing on the crest of a hill with the other women trying to make sense of the cross that stood a little way off. I knew two of the men to be criminals but somehow my Teacher, the man who healed me, who made a place for me hung between them, pushing up with his broken feet in an effort to breathe. His injuries were horrifying, but as I stood with my shocked friends, I found myself willing Jesus to breathe. Counting each labored breath he took, waiting to see his chest rise. And fall. And rise and fall again.

I don’t know how long I stood there caught in the terrible intimacy of watching my Teacher’s chest before I realized it had stopped moving. They were taking him down off the cross and a man I didn’t know was wrapping his body and carrying it off. I felt panic rise in me and saw the same feeling reflected in the faces of the other women. Who was this man taking our Lord away?

Without thought or fear, we followed him and saw this man taking Jesus’ body to a tomb. He was inside with the Lord’s body for so long we were forced to turn for home as the Sabbath was beginning. But we returned as soon as we were able, so anxious to properly anoint the Teacher’s abused body we didn’t give a thought to rolling the stone away from the entrance to the tomb.

Arriving to see the stone already moved seemed like the latest in a litany of things that didn’t make sense. We rushed to the tomb, stepping on each other in our haste to see the body I’d been terrified to look at only moments before. The inside of the tomb was dark, only fingers of the early morning sunlight filtered in, but it was enough. Enough to see that the Teacher’s body was gone.

We were stupefied. After all his suffering someone had stolen Jesus’ body? I felt my heart break again at the thought of not being able to give my Teacher’s body the only thing I had left to give, a proper anointing.

Suddenly there was a flash of blinding, brilliant light and two men in dazzling white clothes stood among us. I knew them to be angels when they started to speak, for they not only shared the miraculous news that Jesus had risen but reminded us that he’d tried to give us this part of the story as well. He’d tried to prepare us for this miraculous resurrection that turned our grief into celebration and had us running all the way back into town to share the Good News.

You know of course that the men didn’t believe us at first. With the exception of Peter, they accused us of gossiping and being caught up in impossible dreams. One of the little snots even told me I was too grief-stricken to be thinking correctly. But as you also know Peter confirmed what we women knew to be true. Our Lord was alive! In the next few weeks, he appeared to several more of our community before returning to heaven.

And just as Jesus’ time on earth ends so does my story. I’m not mentioned again after that impossible, miraculous morning at the Teacher’s tomb and that’s just fine with me. For though my appearances in your Gospel are limited I found the healing I was seeking. Though my story leaves unanswered questions, a place was made for me at Jesus’ side. Though there is so much to my life you will never know, I stood both at the foot of Christ’s cross and in the dim light of his empty tomb. I breathed resurrection air, and it filled my lungs to run and tell the Good News. I am one of the first prophets of the resurrection.

My story started with and ending ends with a beginning. So go, as I did, and share that beginning. Share the Good News. Share that even now Christ is alive, and the world is different.

[1] Jane Schaberg, “Luke,” from The Women’s Bible Commentary, Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe, Editors, pg. 375. [2] Richard B. Vinson, “Luke” Smyth and Helwys Bible Commentary, pg. 243. [3] Ibid. [4] Ibid, 244.

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