“After this, Jesus travelled 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 demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.” (Luke 8: 1-3)
At first glance this would seem to be a brief editorial comment, with a few practical details, before the action moves on to the famous story beginning, “A farmer went out to sow his seed…” But this introduction and the subsequent story have an intrinsic connection. In fact, the latter explains the former. The story -as I’m sure you’ll know- tells of four different responses to the preaching of the word. And this introduction tells why such a variety of response was forthcoming. It was because the Kingdom of God was on the move
“After this, Jesus travelled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.”
This sense of mobility and proclamation comes up again in the next two chapters on a widening scale. Here in Chapter 8, it’s Jesus himself. In Chapter 9, he sends”the Twelve” and in chapter 10 he sends out “the Seventy.” It’s like the widening circles after a stone has been thrown into a still lake.
The numbers, twelve and seventy, have often been interpreted as relating (metaphorically) to mission among the “twelve” tribes of Israel and then to the “seventy” nations of the wider world (an idea deriving from the seventy grandsons of Noah, as spelt out in Genesis 10 as the ancestors of nations). And this is how Matthew’s gospel concludes, with a summons to “Go into all the world…” Luke’s own gospel concludes, of course, with a transition into the Book of Acts, and a much more detailed account of how Matthews conclusion works out, as the gospel travels across national borders and cultural divides, from Jerusalem to Rome.
And this little paragraph shows where it all begins. There is a direct causal link between all of that which is to follow and the proclamation of Jesus himself. This is what Kingdom living looks like.
So here’s the thing: how can we translate that central, primary concept of mobility into the way we proclaim the gospel today?
It seems to me that the whole story of the New Testament is radically mobile. Most of it is made up of occasional, off-the-cuff “letters” that serve to encourage developing groups of believers here and there, dotted across the ancient Mediterranean world. They are reminded that they are “citizens of heaven” rather than of some worldly nation or other, (and remember, that this is when the “Roman Empire” seemed to be a huge, all-powerful entity). Hebrews pictures the whole People of God as on the move, journeying forward (with “no abiding city” here) and Revelation pictures “a new Jerusalem,wherein is righteousness.” It’s all about traveling light and not making so much emphasis about our lives here.
Is this stuff just for “missionaries” whilst we normal Christians just sit tight?
The second point that this little paragraph makes, in Luke’s quiet understated way, is the importance of women in the Kingdom of God. “…And also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.”
Isn’t that interesting? Women who had been healed or “cured of evil spirits” joined the motley crew. It wasn’t a men-only event. In fact, Luke goes further and names names. There is no reason for this at all unless these women were known by name in the early church. “Mary (called Magdalene)” is the most familiar, of course, but Luke adds “Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household” -somebody well-to-do, resourced and well-connected. The polar opposite of Mary Magdalene, perhaps! And “Susanna; and many others.” How many is “many“? Ten? Twenty? It changes the way you think about the travelling band of Jesus-followers, doesn’t it? The obvious question is: what about the financial logistics of this arrangement?
I’m presently contemplating fifteen young people coming on a mission to my town. Such logistics loom very large, very quickly!
So Luke supplies an astonishing answer: “These women were helping to support them out of their own means.”
The high standing of women in Luke’s Gospel is evident from the beginning with two women playing enormously important roles in the history of salvation – Mary and Elizabeth, as well as Anna – roles which are described in such detail only by Luke 1-2. In addition, it is also evident that there is concern for widows in the Gospel; they are mentioned occasionally (Luke 2:37; 4:25-26; 7:12; 18:3; 20:47; 21:2). Mark 15:41 and Matt 27:55 relate that women accompanied Jesus during His ministry, but only Luke adds this point, that they provided for Him out of their own means (Luke 8:1-3). Martha and Mary received Jesus into their house and Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, the position of a disciple (Luke 10:38-42). The angel said to the women in the tomb, “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee...” (Luke 24:6), meaning that they had always been there to hear!
And so women become the first bearers of the news of the resurrection.
But why does Luke make such an emphasis? Part of the reason was just accurate reportage, no doubt, but in our modern cultural context we often fail to understand just how liberating and radical was the gospel of Jesus. It was birthed in a country that was separatist in the extreme, suspicious of foreigners and -to this day- speaking a dawn blessing that concluded,
“Blessed are you O God, King of the Universe, Who has not made me…a goy [Gentile], a slave, or a woman.” (Berakhot 60b)
What a challenge then, when the young church boldly proclaimed that “In Jesus Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female” (Gal 3:28), insisting on the equal value of all, irrespective of race, rank or gender.
This is the point that Luke was making here in this quiet little paragraph.
So there are two challenges which emerge from Luke 8:1-3. The first is to ponder that word “travelling” and contemplate the reality of a “kingdom life” which is not anchored into the political prejudices of a particular country or culture. Indeed, it must not be, or we simply revert to the mindset of the crusades. Love your country by all means, but love your Lord first. The only patriotism that Jesus endorses is the “citizenship of heaven.”
The second challenge is to fully acknowledge the role of women in the kingdom.
Because Jesus did.