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Women Followed Jesus

November 30, 2020 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Luke 8:1-3 (NRSV)

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The 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.

Focus

In Luke 8 we find a surprising passage, one that identifies women who followed Jesus as part of his retinue. They even supported Jesus and the other disciples from their resources. The example of Jesus challenges us to find healthy, holy, and fruitful ways for men and women to share together in work environments.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.

Devotion

Have you ever had the experience of reading through one of the Gospels and coming upon a passage that you’re surprised to see? Maybe shocked? Even if we know the biblical accounts of Jesus’s ministry quite intimately, it’s likely that there are passages that, for some reason, we have not really taken into our minds and hearts. Some of these can be quite unsettling.

For me, Luke 8:1-3 is such a passage. I had read through the Gospel of Luke at least ten times before these verses made an impression on me. That happened several years ago when I was teaching a Fuller course called “Men, Women, and the Bible.” I was working my way through every passage in the Gospels in which women are prominent, when, lo and behold, I stumbled upon Luke 8:1-3 as if reading it for the first time.

Until that moment, when I was about forty years old, I had never envisioned women among those who followed Jesus as part of his retinue. I knew certain women believed that he was the Messiah, but I never imagined them as companions of Jesus and the male disciples. Yet, that’s exactly what Luke portrays. Among those who were “with him” (Luke 8:1) were “some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities” (Luke 8:2).

Why was I surprised, even shocked to read this passage from Luke? Because I knew, from my doctoral studies of the first-century culture of Jesus, that holy men did not allow women to follow them. Why not? Well, for one thing, women were largely excluded from religious instruction in many sectors of first-century Judaism. But even more unsettling would have been the possibility – many would have said the likelihood – of sexual impropriety. Unmarried men and women just didn’t travel around together. But they did in the entourage of Jesus.

We know from other passages in the Gospels that Jesus taught women (Luke 10:38-42) and called upon them to bear witness to him (Matthew 28:9-10). We know that the Holy Spirit was poured out upon both men and women, empowering them for ministry (Acts 2:17-18). But we may not have realized that women were among those who followed Jesus as he made his way around Galilee and Judea. Plus, we may not have recognized that these women supported Jesus and the others materially as they “provided for them out of their resources” (Luke 8:3). They weren’t just “hangers on,” but strategic members of the community of Jesus’s closest disciples.

We live in a time when, perhaps more than ever, we are aware of things that can go wrong when men and women work together, travel together, and so on. We have heard the appalling stories and have read the distressing testimonies by women who have been mistreated or abused by men in power. We understand the potential for working relationships to become improperly intimate. Thus, it is tempting for men and women to withdraw from each other in work, in church, and in other relational contexts. The example of Jesus challenges us to find godly, collaborative, and fruitful ways for men and women to work together—fulfilling the promise of Genesis 1 and 2, in which humankind, as male and female, shares in partnership to do the work of God has given them to do. Without minimizing the risks of such a partnership, we seek to fulfill God’s will for us as we imitate the practices of Jesus.

Reflect

Have you ever had the experience of being surprised to find something in the Gospels that you had never really noticed before? If so, what did you discover? How did you feel?

Why do you think Jesus included women in his entourage, especially given the way so many in his culture would have viewed this behavior?

If it’s God’s intention for men and women to be partners together in the work of this world, how can we ensure that relationships in the workplace are righteous and just?

Act

Take time this week to affirm the people with whom you work, especially (but not only) those who aren’t the same gender as you.

Pray

Lord Jesus, I’m struck again by the inclusiveness of your ministry. In addition to “the twelve” male disciples, you had women who followed you, learned from you, and even supported you. Such a powerful sign of how we are to share together in the work you have given us.

Lord, you know that we haven’t always lived out faithfully the partnership you designed for us. Sin has corrupted the way we relate to each other, including the relationships between men and women. But you have come to heal and comfort. You have come to restore and rebuild. You pour out the Spirit on all people, specifically on men and women, so that we might be co-laborers in your service. So help us, Lord, to establish healthy and holy relationships between men and women in the workplace. May we learn how to flourish together in a way that honors you and your intentions for us. Amen.


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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. An article on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Women Make Jesus’ Work Possible (Luke 4:14-19)


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