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.
This paragraph transitions – moves the story along. The reference to “soon afterwards”, and a general statement of going on through cities and villages, tell us that Luke intends to change the focus of the story – he has been talking about Jesus’ fellowship with the outcasts, sinners, tax collectors, and the poor; and about his authority, to heal, to cast out demons, to raise the dead, to forgive sins; and the compassion and love with which he did these things. But now, Luke will turn to some of Jesus’ teachings and parables. The change of setting here is like the curtain going down on act 1 (or in this case, act 2, for the birth narratives make up act 1) of a play; we eagerly await the next act.
What is Jesus doing as he goes through these cities and villages? Even though it is a general statement, Luke is clear, Jesus is proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. Jesus frequently speaks of the kingdom in Luke’s gospel; this is his proclamation. Two things to note here – the kingdom of God is good news! Jesus is talking about something good, and available to all humankind. This is not an endure in this life and then you will go to heaven message! This is, accept the kingdom into your hearts and live into it today, and your life will be better message! And the kingdom is present, in this world, in Jesus’ presence then and now. Jesus said in Nazareth, “this scripture is fulfilled”; he was announcing the kingdom here and now!
But most interesting in this paragraph, to me at least, is that Luke talks about the women who accompanied Jesus. They travel with Jesus just as the Twelve do. There is Mary Magdalene – because of the proximity of the previous passage, and a place in John where the woman who washed Jesus’ feet was named Mary, these characters became conflated in time and Mary Magdalene had been labeled a prostitute. But Luke never names the woman in the previous story, and he says that Mary Magdalene was a woman from whom 7 demons had been cast out. The Mary John mentions is the sister of Martha, another Mary entirely. So, contrary to what we may have been told, there is no biblical evidence that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. Then there was Joanna, who was the wife of Herod’s steward – quite a powerful and wealthy woman – And Susanna, and many others. These women provided for them out of their own resources. It was unusual in the first century, especially in Palestine, for women to have any resources of their own, anything to spend without their husband or father’s permission; it was a patriarchal society. These women were exceptional for their time. They both had resources at their disposal, and they moved freely about the country; and they were willing to give what they had to support the ministry of Jesus!
Even with the freedom of women of the 21st century, would we do what these women did? Would we leave our homes and families to travel with an itinerant preacher around the country, paying out of our own pockets for the expenses of the ministry? These women were exceptional, not just for their time, but for all time!