Joanna: The Witness

Saint Joanna and the Head of Saint John the Baptist – Source: Wikipedia. Created c.1700

            Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward, Chuza, participated in a three-day drama that changed the world. On the Friday of Passover, she, along with other women, witnessed Jesus’s Crucifixion and death, even though the eleven disciples were nowhere to be found. With that group of women witnesses, Joanna followed his body from the cross to his tomb. On Sunday morning, she, along with other women, returned to the tomb where Jesus was buried. When they arrived, two men (probably angels) told them to remember what Jesus had said to them earlier: that he would be crucified and rise on the third day. 

It had happened! Jesus had risen from the dead! It was astonishing, almost unbelievable, news. So unbelievable that when the women told the eleven disciples, they dismissed the women’s reporting. I am guessing that every woman reading this knows how that feels. 

Joanna was a fascinating woman, although “courageous” might be a better adjective. She regularly stepped outside the socially defined limits placed on women of her time. She was a wealthy woman who associated with Jesus, his disciples and his followers and helped finance their work. She also[BD1] [MOU2] [MOU3] [MOU4]  traveled with them. “This is surprising, because women in early Jewish culture were not supposed to fraternize with men they were not related to, never mind travel around Galilee with them,” according to New Testament scholar the Rev. Ben Witherington III. 

It may be an exaggeration to call her a revolutionary, but perhaps not. Jesus offered a new way to see the world. He taught that people we see as marginalized and excluded would become favored, receive mercy, and would see God. As a follower of Jesus, Joanna stepped out of her social circle. She was suspended between two groups with little overlap. Those in the ruling class looked down upon Jesus’s followers, and Jesus’s followers looked at the rulers with contempt. 

            Joanna’s story has another dimension[BD5] [MOU6] [MOU7] . Her husband, Chuza, was either the administrator or anadministrator of Herod Antipas’ estate. According to English Anglican scholar Richard Bauckman, either position made him a “very high ranking official in Herod’s court.” You may remember Herod Antipas, son of King Herod the Great, who ordered John the Baptist beheaded and for his role in Jesus’s execution. 

            A third dimension of Joanna’s relationship with Jesus was her wealth. Her financial support came from her personal wealth as the wife of a rich man, and it was not pennies gathered by a poor woman. (Luke 8:1b-3) 

            Jesus taught that wealth, power[BD8]  and social status did not provide a path to seeing God. Instead, he taught that marginalized and excluded people were favored by God. As one of the wealthier and more powerful people in Jerusalem, Joanna put herself at risk by traveling with Jesus, financially supporting his ministry, staying with the other women at the cross, following Jesus’s body to the tomb and going with the other women to the tomb on Sunday morning. Perhaps her status helped protect her; perhaps it made her more vulnerable. Regardless, Joanna provides evidence of women’s significant contributions to Jesus’s ministry.

            Joanna, Mary, and Salome are commemorated on August 3 in the Lutheran Church/ Missouri Synod as the myrrh bearing women. The Orthodox and Eastern Catholic denominations commemorate Joanna on the 3rd Sunday of Pascha;Roman Catholics on May 24.

Biblical Sources NRSV:

Luke 8:1b-3The 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 24:4-10 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 

Secular Sources 

Ben Witherington III, “Joanna,” (accessed February 28, 2021).

Richard Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2002), 161.

Copyright release

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

©Suzanne O’Dea, 2021

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