Because of the centuries that have passed since Jesus walked the earth, it is hard for us to appreciate how revolutionary Luke's picture of Jesus' ministry is. Women's involvement in supporting Jesus' ministry is an example. Though some wealthy women supported religious figures in ancient times (Josephus Antiquities 17.2.4 41-44), it was unusual for them to be as involved as the women in this passage are with Jesus. In fact, this passage is one of several unique to Luke that focus on women (others include 1:5-39, Elizabeth; 2:36-38, Anna the prophetess; 7:36-50, the sinful woman; 10:38-42, Martha and Mary; 13:10-17, the healing of the crippled woman; 15:8-10, the parable of the woman with the lost coin; 18:1-8, the parable of the woman and the judge). Many men of the time believed that women were not even to be seen, much less heard. In a later Jewish text, t. Berakot 7:18, one leader rejoiced that he was not a pagan, a woman or unlearned (Fitzmyer 1981:696). In contrast, Luke and the New Testament declare that women have equal access to the blessings of grace and salvation. Whatever distinctions the Bible makes between male and female roles, there is no distinction when it comes to being coheirs in grace (Gal 3:28-29; 1 Pet 3:7).
This small summary paragraph is important not only because women are included but also because of the variety of women mentioned. Mary called Magdalene ministered in response to Jesus' healing ministry. His exorcism of demons from her had drawn her to him. Though from the time of Gregory the Great she has had the reputation of a sinful woman, this text gives no indication that she was immoral. Joanna was the wife of a major political figure, Chuza, who served as Herod's steward. Thus Luke shows that Jesus' message had reached the highest social stratum, the palace. We are not told anything about Susanna. All these women contributed their resources to Jesus' ministry. Their hearts were sensitive to God's work, and they expressed this sensitivity through their generosity.
When this discussion of women is set next to that of the sinful woman in 7:36-50, it is clear that Jesus' ministry spanned social backgrounds as well as moral backgrounds. It is striking that here the women's response took the concrete form of support. Just as in the Old Testament the whole nation was to support the priests, so these women, as beneficiaries of God's grace, gave to support Jesus' ministry. Receiving should lead to giving.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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