Jesus told his followers to leave behind all they had and to follow him. Those who heard this call would have left jobs, homes and family support to join Jesus on the road, travelling all over the countryside, stopping off at towns and villages to tell them of God’s great love for them.
This style of life would have been a simple one. Jesus was strong on his message of solidarity with the poor so it is unlikely he and his followers would have been living the high life. We read time and again of Jesus accepting hospitality at people’s houses for him and his followers. Whilst these occasions were often moments of wonderful teaching and revelation they were also practically probably a way for he and his friends to eat that day. Some scholars suggest that begging would have been another way for the band of travellers to find the means to exist.
However, there is another part of the story that has largely gone unspoken of for many of us. It revolves around a very important woman in the life of Jesus. She is mentioned as a person to whom Jesus brought healing. She is mentioned as being a person who provided for Jesus and his companions. She is mentioned as being one of the people who first came upon the empty tomb on what became known as Easter Day (and was one of the women who told the hiding male disciples of what they saw- and were disbelieved!). Scholars would say that she is likely to have been in the upper room with the apostles after the resurrection, with them when they chose Matthias to replace Judas, and with them on the day of Pentecost.
So who was this mystery woman??
Hands up if you think it was Mary of Magdala. Close but no cigar! Her name was, in fact, Joanna. She is first mentioned in the Gospel of Luke here,
“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.” Luke 8:1-3. She is also mentioned in Luke 24: 9-11.
Joanna came from a well to do family. Her husband, being a steward in Herod’s household, would have had money and influence. Joanna essentially bank-rolled the ministry of Jesus. Let’s be clear about what that meant; she (and Mary of Magdala and Susanna as mentioned above) was an essential part of the ministry. She was part of the core team of Jesus’ friends, followers and apostles. Given her access to Herod’s household she may well have witnessed the torture of Jesus before his crucifixion. Therefore she is an essential part of our story as Christians.
Yet, when was the last time we heard her mentioned? When was the last time we ourselves spoke of her? Is she a little written out of the story? If so, why is that? She was a powerful, generous and brave woman. Imagine being part of Herod’s household as the situation regarding Jesus and the authorities played out. Not only that, imagine being brave enough to stay loyal to Jesus after he was found guilty, beaten and killed. She was an amazing woman.
So let’s remember and give thanks for Joanna and the role of leadership she played in the church. In doing so I want to honour all of the Joannas in the present- the strong, brave, generous women who provide the leadership we so need. More, I say. More!