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Women in the community with Jesus — where does it lead?

March 23, 2009

As is often the case when one studies, you begin to see things that before had just been part of the scenery.  I am for the most part a visual learner, but I have poor eyesight (no joke intended).  Without my contacts (or glasses) I would have to be up close and personal with my computer screen to see what I was writing.  So while I am primarily a visual learner I also rely upon my hearing.  Perhaps I am a “demonstratable” (I think I’ve invented a new word) learner.

So when I read the Gospels I am realizing that I have missed some of the meaning because I have read the Word from where I am in the 21st century with 21st century Christian values and society.  Things that are no big deal to me (to us?) are actually a big deal, because they highlight for us a shift.  You see what had blended into the scenery has received renewed color and vibrancy.  The picture, in other words, is more alive.

Luke 8:1-3 (please note this passage immediately follows the story of the woman, Jesus and Simon the Pharisee, our focus earlier this month).

Soon afterwards he (Jesus) 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.

I have read this passage too many times to count.  I got the “gist” of what was happening and on occasion I have reflected on the community that was following Christ, but I have not let what this community represented impact me.  If we are to understand what Christ envisioned and lived out, a kingdom community that would express what it is to love God and love others (Jesus’ Shema if you will, see Matthew 22: 34-40), then it would be helpful to pause and see what was happening here that is worth noting.

In these few verses Luke, the doctor, is giving attention to some of those that were in the company of Jesus and the disciples.  That Luke refers to specific women and women in general is really quite important.  It wasn’t the norm.  When I was in college years ago coed dorms were a relatively new thing.  Guys in one wing, girls in the other wing.  Things have progressed, depending upon the college guys and girls might be on different floors or they might be on the same floors.  This is still not easy for some to handle.  No judgment, just things they are a changin’.  Today for guys and gals to take a road trip together is not really a big deal.  Several years ago my son went on a camping trip to Yosemite.  They packed up the cars and jumped in, off they went, young men and young women, friends on a camping trip.  In my day, when I was that age, it was a push to go on a camping trip with several of my girl friends (from Camp Fire camp, no less).  To have gone on a camping trip in “mixed” company would not have happened.  And I know many a parent that would not be comfortable with a camping trip to Yosemite.

So here in Luke’s gospel we are learning a bit more about the group that was following Jesus.  It was comprised of both men and women.  In fact women were utilizing the money at their disposal (in other words funds they had control of) to support the ministry of Jesus.  Luke even introduces some of the women to us — Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna.  In that day and time the readers (and hearers) of Luke’s words would have recognized who these women were, just as we do today when someone tells us a story and mentions the name of a person.  We make the connection and it adds to the meaning of the story being told.

So while Luke is making mental connections for people that might know or have heard stories about Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna he is also describing a radical community.  Men and women together.  Some married, some single, some (perhaps) with their spouses and some probably not.  Oh my, what would the neighbors think (or the religious leaders)?

Middle Eastern scholar, Kenneth Bailey notes that although social customs are more relaxed today than they were two thousand years ago, it would still be unacceptable for men and women to travel together.  In others words what Luke describes as happening among his band of followers simply could not happen today in the Middle East.  It would not be socially acceptable.  Women could travel with men, but they would not be able to spend the night (think of camping). It would be socially acceptable for women to return to their homes or to spend the night with relatives.[1] Who knows maybe this did happen, but probably not in every town or village in which Jesus traveled. Most likely they stayed in individual homes reliant upon the hospitality of others.  Where they stayed is perhaps not as important as the fact that Luke (a man) is telling us that men and women were in the company of Jesus and that they traveled with him.  They followed along where ever it was that he was going.

Those following Jesus represent and are a witness within Jewish society (as well as when they ventured into Samaria) of life within the kingdom of God.  Jesus is forming a new type of community by including women as disciples and allowing them to be part of his “band.”

We need to pay attention.  We need to see how our faith communities provide for the inclusion of those that are marginalized in our churches (those that are not in the “inner leadership circles”) as well as those in our society (right where we live is a good start). How do we hear their voices, their stories?  Are we adding to their burden by telling them they need to do more for God?  Or do we realize that just as these women provided for the ministry of Christ, there are women and men with gifts, talents, passions (yes, even money) that will support the work of Christ if we will only see?  Do we see the women and men that desire to develop their abilities in service (aka discipleship) but feel what they have to offer is somehow insignificant because it happens in their workplace, or walking with friends, or on the golf course, or fishing, or (you fill in the blank).

This passage is important for us as women in the church and for us as women in ministry leadership.  We have a place at the table.  But it is also important for us to see beyond and realize that it isn’t just “us.”  What Luke has done is to shine a spotlight so that we (men and women) can see the gospel stories in a clearer light.  Mission for Jesus was not a “to do,” mission happened because Jesus interacted with people.  The “band” with Jesus was stretched as they entered into the interaction.

Jesus ministered out of compassion because he identified himself with those in need.[2] This stretches us on multiple fronts.  It is not only the one being ministered to that is transformed.  We, the ministers — both men and women must be transformed to identify with others as Jesus did.   As a woman moving (at least attempting) into leadership I cannot see only myself or my issues, but I must equip my eyes to beyond myself — to see the other.  This includes seeing the needs of women in ministry–young and old, as well as to see other men and women in need.  A good place to begin is to reflectively ask my Lord, “Who are those in need? Who do you see?”

It also provides opportunity for both brothers and sisters in Christ (and I add, especially those in positions of leadership) to ask the same.  When we begin to answer the questions: “Who is in need?  Who do I see?”  Rather than experience pressure or anxiousness that we must “do something,” or there is something more to do, or something is “out there” beyond our reach, we will begin to recognize the ministry within our midst, right before our eyes.  I often wonder why ministry is most often defined by programs.  It isn’t that we do not need programs, but perhaps we have missed the impact of who God has brought to us and who God might minister too through those among us.  Could it be that all the programs, however good and right, will not have lasting impact unless we are able to live out what it is to identify with others? If people are not moving (in response to the gospel) do we know why?  Is there a model of ministry within this band that we have put aside? Perhaps we need to recognize that it is among the common places and common people — those in our church pews and it extends through them to the places they go and the people they see, and those they influence or are influenced by.  The kingdom comes.  Our capacities are increased and mission grows.  Both our near-sightedness and our far-sightedness need correction.

May it be so.

[1] Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008], page 192-193.

[2] Scot McKnight, The Jesus Creed: Loving God and Loving Others [Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2004], page 118.

  1. March 23, 2009 9:05 am

    Heylo Carol! I have been following along.. and I was surprised by this post. I completely forgot about that section in Luke. Thanx!

  2. pathwayjourneys permalink*
    March 23, 2009 9:11 am

    Hey Faith…
    I’m glad you are following along. This section is just sort of there, it is a good “surprise.” Your voice is always welcome!

  3. March 24, 2009 10:19 am


    Thanks for your insight. What a great word and reminder! I pray I can be faithful to this call– balancing the need & openness of transformation in my personal life to seeing and experiencing others with sensitivity to their stories, their journeys, their hopes and their faith.

    • pathwayjourneys permalink*
      March 24, 2009 11:50 am

      DaAnza… So good to hear from you. As you have expressed your desire — I’ll pray for you and ask that you pray for me in these things as well.
      God’s grace and peace to you.

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