Jesus and his Supporters
The records we have of Jesus' life are incomplete. In saying that I don't mean that some of the books God wanted us to have are now lost – they haven't, the Bible is complete and completely trustworthy too. What I do mean is that the gospel writers never set out to try to tell us absolutely everything that Jesus said or did. They were not interested in telling us in excruciating detail every place he visited nor were they interested in mentioning everyone he ever spoke to or knew.
Luke has already told us why he wrote his gospel: he wanted to provide a man called Theophilus with an orderly account of what had happened and in writing this account Luke relied heavily upon the testimony of various eye-witnesses.
Then the apostle John openly declared that he had made no attempt to write everything that could be written about Jesus – Jesus had simply done too much for that to be possible!
Jn.21:25 "Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written."
In line with this we regularly come across references to people, places and deeds but without the details being filled in for us. For example in the section we looked at last week at the end of ch.7 Luke told us that at the home of Simon the Pharisee there were others at table when Jesus visited but we don't know either who they were or how many of them there were.
Now this week as we turn to Lk.8:1-3 we have to do with a short paragraph which contains a very brief summary of what happened next. Luke does tell us the names of three of the women who followed Jesus but other than that the section abounds in generalities.
A first sight then it might seem that we should hurry on – after all the Lord is about to tell one of his well-known parables – but this little section does have some important information for us to take note of.
I want to draw your attention to three things:
where Jesus went
what Jesus did when he got there
how he was enabled to do what he did
Where Jesus went
Sometimes we are told the places to which Jesus went – according to some writers nearly thirty different places are named in the Scriptures (but I haven't checked this). Such a list would include important places such as Nazareth, Capernaum, Jerusalem. Jesus also went to places that although named were much less significant eg. Nain. Now we find that he went to many more places than just the ones that are mentioned explicitly by name:
v.1 "he went on through cities and villages" "he travelled to town after town, village after village," " from one town and village to another,"
What we may ask is the significance of this? What should we take from this?
a. Jesus was not trying to hide himself away – if you want to do that you tend to stay put in one place and keep your head down. Jesus energetically criss-crossed the countryside going to places small and smaller in order to find people and help them good wherever he could find them. Jesus was no reluctant or lazy Messiah expecting others to serve him - instead he readily about the task of serving others.
This is how the apostle Peter would speak about Jesus subsequently:
Acts 10: 38b "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem."
b. Jesus wasn't just interested in the so-called important people in society. Such people tend to be found in the larger population centres, the economic and political capitals of the world and not in the backwoods villages and hamlets off the beaten track. Jesus was interested in the ordinary people in society, the poor in society and the isolated in society. Oh yes, he was ready and willing to deal with the leaders and shakers too but he valued men and women as made in the image of God.
We live here in a quiet little seaside town that has little influence – with a population of 38 1/ 2 thousand we don't even make it onto the Wikipedia list of towns in England (even our district centred on the city of Canterbury only comes in 137 th place). Not a particular important part of the England then – but just the kind of place that Jesus made a point of visiting as he went about.
It should be encouraging to us to know that Jesus took a real interest in the little people of his day who lived in all those little unnamed places.
What did Jesus do?
Luke emphasises that Jesus' prime motivation as he visited settlement after settlement was to share the good news of the Kingdom of God with all those who would listen to him.
As Luke describes Jesus' ministry he used two different verbs that our church Bible translates as:
Bringing the glad tidings
The first of these words describes the action of a herald who has a received a message that he is responsible for passing on to others. It is the action of a town crier who transmits the message he himself has received.
This is the word most often translated by the word preaching. True preaching is not a man sharing his own ideas and thought, it is declaring the message he has received from God, a message that will be found firmly anchored in the Bible.
Jesus was himself very happy indeed eager to do just this. John records Jesus as saying:
Jn.8:28 "you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me."
If Jesus was content to preach in this way then it surely becomes his followers to do the same!
The second word gives us our word evangelise, or evangel. In other words as Jesus preached and proclaimed the Kingdom of God he knew and was convinced that it was indeed good news that he was sharing with his hearers. Have you understood why the Christian message keeps on and on talking about "good news"? Many people think of this message as being summed up by a list of moral dos and don'ts (mostly don'ts) and don't see this as good news at all. If that were the Christian message then I would heartily agree with them! But the Christian message doesn't focus on what I have to do to try earn favour with God, or to try to force my way into the Kingdom of God, it is all about what God has done on behalf of sinners and that is good news!
If Jesus made it such a priority to proclaim good news then surely we should make it a priority in our lives to pay attention to what he said!
How could Jesus do this?
Jesus had worked for most of his life up until the time he began his public ministry as a carpenter. Amongst the twelve apostles he had called to follow him several had been fisherman and another had been a tax collector. But now they were engaged in full-time itinerant work and that meant no more income from their previous employment. How could they do it?
Well the regular way in which Jesus functioned financially was to have a common purse and Judas, who would later betray him, was given the trusted responsibility of looking after their common funds. But where did those funds actually come from? Luke is about to tell us.
Jesus travelled widely and the disciples too travelled with him. Now Luke tells us that as Jesus roamed the countryside preaching at this particular time there were yet more people who accompanied him, there were some women!
We need to stop for a moment and reflect a little more closely on this. The questions we must answer are these:
What was the place of women in the society of Jesus' day?
Who were these women? What had Jesus done for them?
How did they respond to Jesus?
Woman in the First Century:
Many men looked down on women in the first century of the CE even as sadly many still do in our own day. Religiously it was little different – a traditional Jewish prayer used by men contained the following:
Blessed are you, King of the Universe, for not having made me a Gentile .
Blessed are you, King of the Universe, for not having made me a slave.
Blessed are you, King of the Universe, for not having made me a woman.
And with such an attitude you probably won't be surprised to learn that many rabbis didn't value women at all and certainly didn't think it worth while taking the time to teach them.
We find a similar attitude still lurks today. In our supposedly politically correct day have you never heard someone try to dismiss the church as being irrelevant on the grounds that it is full of (old) women?
How different Jesus showed himself to be! Jesus treated women well. He treated them with respect, answered their questions, taught them and healed them. He didn't appoint any women to be a member of his apostolic team - men and women have complementary roles to fulfil in God's world and particularly in the church - but he was happy to make his first resurrection appearance to a woman and that in a culture that didn't think a woman's testimony as a witness was reliable.
While we mustn't make too much from an argument taken from silence it is nevertheless interesting to note that the none of the four gospels ever mention a woman treating Jesus with suspicion, hostility or animosity. All of Jesus' enemies who are singled out for comment are men.
Who were these women?
Luke is going to give us the names of three specific individuals but before he does he talks in wider more general terms: he makes it clear that there were many more than just the three he would identify.
The women were there because Jesus had done wonderful things for them. Luke tells us that some of them had been ill and other troubled by evil spirits but that Jesus had healed them all.
We know quite a lot about Mary Magdalene and her name reappears several times later on in the gospel story. Mary had once been possessed by seven demons and we can only imagine what deliverance must have felt like for her. Having received so much from the Lord we're not surprised that she wanted to be where he was to be found. As the opposition which led eventually to Jesus' crucifixion grew and developed Mary Magdalene remained thoroughly committed to him. She would be there to watch him die, she followed to see the place where they laid his body, she was amongst the first the visit the empty tomb and she was the first to see the risen Lord in the flesh again.
Joanna is described as being the wife of an important figure in Herod's service. Herod might well be hostile towards Jesus but there were others closely linked to him who saw things very differently indeed. Because of her husband's position Joanna may well have been a lady of some influence.
Do you remember these words that Paul wrote to the Corinthians?
1Cor.1:26 " For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth."
How glad we should be that he said "Not many..." and didn't say "Not any"!
Some have tried to identify Joanna's husband as the official at Capernaum who went to Jesus for the healing of his son. If such an identification is right (and it is not possible to establish this) then Joanna's gratitude towards Jesus would be very easy for us to understand.
Joanna appears just once more in the gospel record – along with Mary Magdalene she witnessed the empty tomb on that first resurrection morning. She then returned with the others to share the good news with the slow-to-believe male disciples only to find their words treated as though they were an idle tale!
The third woman mentioned by name is Susanna. Although we have her name we know no more about her than we do of the many other unnamed women. How lovely that the good news of Jesus Christ is for the ordinary unknowns of this world! Unknown to men and women that is but known to God!
The common link between all these women was that Jesus had done them good and that being the case it is hardly surprising to find that they wanted to be in his company.
How did they respond to Jesus?
Perhaps the first thing we should notice is the willingness of these women to be identified with Jesus. As Jesus' attitude towards women differed so greatly from that of other religious teachers, the presence of women in a discipleship band would be unusual too. They were likely to be pointed at and their pasts talked about. Mary's deliverance from demons would make for exciting gossip. But they who had received much from him were ready and willing to be identified with him – they were prepared to "stand up, stand up" for Jesus.
Can the same be said of us?
The second way in which these ladies responded to the grace they had received was to put their hand into their pocket/purse and make a serious financial contribution. It was these women – some of whom at least had some significant financial resources – who met the needs of Jesus and his disciples as they travelled the length and breadth of the region preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God.
John Wesley once said that "the last part of a man to be converted is his wallet" and before him Martin Luther had said, "Every man needs two conversions: the first his heart, the second of his wallet". From these comments from two such esteemed Christian leaders it seems that Christians often have a problem with generosity – not that they have a problem with being on the receiving end of God's generosity but in terms of being generous in their response to it!
How these ladies put us and our calculating niggardliness to shame! Just like the sinful woman who washed Jesus' feet and wiped them with her hair before pouring expensive perfume over them they were generous in their support of Christ and his work.
The Son of God had power enough to turn water into wine to help an embarrassed family, to turn a boy's lunch pack into a meal for thousands of hungry folk, yet he was himself ready to supported by the love gifts of the very ones he'd himself helped. We read quite simply that they "provided for him out of their means." And the record of what they did lives on – forgotten neither by men nor by God himself.
In the light of this information I must ask myself the question "Am I generous with my finances?" Of course it's not a question of trying to buy a place in God's Kingdom – that could never be – but having been freely pardoned and delivered is it not right for me to be generous? When was the last time I increased my giving to the Lord?
Well my friends, if I must ask myself those questions then so must you. May God give us wisdom in all that we do and may his name be glorified.