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The mystery of Jesus’ benefactress

Fr. Dan Daly, S.J. - published on 09/16/16

Joanna, the wife of one of Herod's court officials, must have been an extraordinary person.

The carriage stopped on the road near the shady spot where Jesus and the disciples were resting. An attendant on horseback dismounted, opened the gate on the side of the carriage and helped the woman inside step down. The woman was obviously someone of importance but she had neither fine clothes nor jewelry; she wore a simple cloak and carried a small travelling bag. Most of the disciples did not recognize her, but Mary Magdalene knew who she was. The woman standing before them, looking a little frightened and overwhelmed, was Joanna, the wife of one of King Herod’s court officials. Jesus had cured her of a debilitating illness two weeks earlier when he and the disciples were passing through Tiberius.

Mary immediately walked up to Joanna and greeted her. Joanna explained that she wanted to travel in Jesus’ company if he would allow it. The healing miracle he had performed in Tiberius had changed her life completely. She now wanted nothing more than to learn from him and help in any way that she could. Joanna did not say what her husband thought about her new direction in life, and Mary decided that it was best not to ask.

Mary brought Joanna to Jesus who welcomed her warmly, saying that he would be happy to have her travel with them for as long as she wanted. When Joanna explained that she brought some money to help support the group, Jesus directed her to Judas who kept the money bag. Judas, like some of the other disciples, was a little wary of this new member of the group. Judas considered Herod a traitor for cooperating with the Romans and was skeptical about anyone from the upper class. As far as he was concerned, a rich woman from Herod’s court did not belong in their company at all. He held his tongue when Mary introduced Joanna to him, but his opinion was pretty clear. Joanna wondered if it was a mistake for her to try to become part of this group, but Mary assured her that everything would be fine and took her away to find something to eat.

Joanna is mentioned only twice in Luke’s Gospel. She was among those who provided financial support to Jesus in his ministry and was one of the women who went to the tomb on Easter Sunday morning and received an announcement that Jesus had risen from the dead. Though not mentioned explicitly, she was surely among the women who witnessed the death and burial of Jesus. She must have been an extraordinary person.

Joanna was certainly bold and courageous. She left behind family, social standing and a comfortable home to join the rough-and-ready group that followed Jesus from town to town. It was very unusual for a woman to strike out on her own. We do not know how her husband reacted, but he might have divorced her because of the shame her decision brought to him and the family. The disciples were probably slow to accept her.

Joanna was very generous in giving what resources she had to help buy food for Jesus and his companions. She was also incredibly faithful. When Jesus was arrested, anyone who associated with him would have been under suspicion. Remaining with Jesus during his brutal execution would have been very difficult. But Joanna did not shy away. She stayed with Jesus through it all. That she was among the first to hear the wonderful news of the resurrection was only fitting.

Jesus continues to encounter people today and to have a profound impact on their lives. For some, following him comes at a significant cost. Like Joanna they do so with generosity, courage and determination. They serve as an inspiration to all of us who have come to know and believe in Jesus and attempt to follow him as best we can in the particular circumstances of our lives.

For the Mass readings for September 16, click here. To learn more about the painting of the Blessed Mother and the women from Galilee, click here.

Author’s note:  St. Ignatius Loyola encouraged us to use our imagination in contemplating Scripture passages so that we might draw greater fruit from them. In reflecting on the story of Joanna I use my imagination to fill in some of the details of the story.


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