What does it say about Joanna that she was following Jesus around and supporting His ministry and disciples financially?
As many of you have said and the biblical text noted, Jesus had brought a significant measure of deliverance to her life. It may have been healing from a disease or physical handicap, or it may have been deliverance from spiritual oppression. We read that with Mary, it was demonic deliverance, but no specifics are offered for Joanna and Susanna. Its clear Jesus had met a need of Joanna’s that no one else had been able to meet … and she was grateful.
Nonetheless, it is an odd thing for the wife of Herod’s steward to be following Jesus around, giving Him and his other men money. In our culture, it is common for wives to make financial decisions and even to do the majority of the purchasing and spending, but that was not so in Jesus’ time. Men (fathers, husbands) were the economic supporters of women and the controllers of wealth in this era. In fact, when a man died his assets did not automatically go to his wife as they do today. Instead, they would be transferred to his sons, and his sons were expected to take care of their widowed mother. Also, a woman could make money through her own business ventures, but that money would be under her husband’s control. There were no separate his and hers bank accounts. While it was typical for rabbis to be supported by the people’s tithes and gifts to God. It wasn’t exactly normal that Joanna and the other women were supporting Jesus and His disciples.
It was also rather radical for Joanna to be traveling with Jesus and the others. It’s common for rabbis to have followers but women were not taken by rabbis as disciples, only men. Women were expected to stay with and under the care of their fathers or husbands, and to care for any children they have. Furthermore, a woman of Joanna’s social class would not be expected to travel about with the likes of fishermen, carpenters, and former prostitutes. Therefore, Joanna is breaking with that cultural rule as well.
We know Joanna’s husband was a steward for Herod. That means he may have been a thug who collected the king’s taxes from the Jews. Or, he may have overseen the management of Herod’s vast estate. Either way Chuza would not have been a pushover and he would’ve been money-minded. So, it’s doubtful that he was unaware of Joanna’s actions. The text doesn’t mention that Chuza was also a believer in Jesus, so how was Joanna able to follow and give money to Jesus? It’s not certain but it’s possible that Chuza had divorced her – perhaps because she was sick, or demonically possessed, or maybe barren.
There was a practice during this time called “ketubba.” This would be written into a marriage contract and it would cause the husband to have to give his wife a certain sum of money – sometimes the return of the entire bride price – if he chose to divorce her. This sum of money was thought to help her attract another husband. It is possible Joanna was using her ketubba payment to support her heavenly husband, Jesus.
To me the most precious part of this story is how Joanna and the other women continued to support and care for Jesus, even after the disciples had scattered or fled. Joanna would’ve been there praying for, grieving for, and supporting Jesus during his crucifixion. Afterward she went to his tomb to give Him a proper burial by anointing His body with spices. And she was blessed by God to see the angles that announced His resurrection!
It seems that Joanna’s story may not end with our assigned passages. This morning I learned that some bible scholars have concluded that the disciple Joanna is the same woman as the Christian Junia mentioned by Paul in the book of Romans. Check out the following I read:
“Joanna’s name occurs again in the form of ‘Junia’ in Rom. 16:7: “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives [i.e. fellow Jews] and fellow prisoners, who are prominent among the apostles and were in Christ before me.” Junia was a common Roman woman’s name, the equivalent of the Hebrew ‘Joanna’. The Latin pronunciation of ‘Junia’ and the Hebrew ‘Yohannah’ would have been very close indeed. It would seem, therefore, that Joanna moved to Rome, changed her name to a Latin form, and married Andronicus, a Jewish apostle, who like her was an early convert “in Christ” before Paul’s conversion. Given her background in the Roman court at Tiberias, Joanna would have been an ideal missionary to Rome; and thus she went, and was imprisoned. It could well be that ‘Junia’ was the Latin name by which she would have been known even in Tiberias. Note how there were other missionaries who changed their Hebrew names into the Latin forms when they went on mission work into the Roman world: Silas became Silvanus, Saul became Paulus, Joseph Barsabbas became Justus (Acts 1:23); and hence we read of “John, whose other [Latin] name was Mark” (Acts 12:12,25).”
Joanna was a devoted follower who used what she had to bless and support Christ. She was willing to break with tradition in order to follow her Deliverer. She was also honored to announce the Good News and possibly to also reach the Romans with the gospel. I'd love to write more about Joanna, but I’ve got a meeting to make in an hour and I haven’t gotten in the shower yet. Be sure and read the other’s comments on the Reading Joanna post if you haven’t yet because I saw a lot of really good insights there!
Chow for now ...