Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and the Other Benefactors
August 28, 2016
Jen Moore, one of our members starts seminary this fall.
She moved into her seminary dorm room in Philadelphia this week.
Jen posted on Facebook (she gave me permission to share this story!) that it seems that everything at seminary
is named for a donor – including her room.
There’s a plaque on her door stating that
she now lives in the “Mr. and Mrs. Blanck” room.
To get in the spirit of things Jen decided to name her personal benefactors too…
So she has the “Noah Moore coffee corner” since Noah gave her a coffee maker,
and she has the “Barbara O’Keefe reading chair” with a prayer shawl Barbara made.
The other night she celebrated with a popcorn break brought to her by Lynne.
(No word yet on whether she has a plaque for the popcorn!)
Jen’s room is filled with reminders of her benefactors –
those who support her in ministry.
From these 3 little verses from Luke, we see that
Jesus’ ministry relied on benefactors too.
Luke talks about two groups of people
who were traveling with Jesus as he went through cities and villages in Galilee:
there were the “Twelve”;
and there were “some women …”
Three of these women are named:
Mary called Magdalene;
Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward;
Luke says that these three and many more served Jesus
and “provided for them out of their resources.”
Did you realize that Jesus was accompanied in his ministry not only by the twelve,
but by a group of women?
Did you know that they not only followed him, but supported Jesus and the rest of his followers
out of their own means?
This week was Women’s Equality Day –
a day celebrating the 96th anniversary of the 19th amendment – women’s right to vote.
In his official proclamation about the day this year,
President Obama said:
“At every level of society, women are leaders at the forefront of progress. Serving as judges and Members of Congress, setting world records in sports, founding groundbreaking companies, and fighting on the front lines of combat, women continue to tear down barriers and shatter glass ceilings — just as they have done since the founding of our Nation.
Yet such progress is not inevitable, and we must keep moving forward on our journey toward equality.”[i]
“At every level of society” women are leaders…except it seems sometimes the church.
The church is one institution that has lagged behind in gender equality.
Even now, a majority of Christians in the world
are part of traditions where only men are allowed in leadership.
(From David Lose)[ii]
For centuries, this was justified by saying that the 12 were all men.
Yet here, from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry,
we see that women played a critical role in the ministry of Jesus.
Over the years, some have argued that they played a supportive role,
not a leadership role.
But in the ancient world the ability to support others
from one’s own resources was a leadership role.
It demonstrated competence, independence, and resourcefulness.
More than any other gospel writer,
Luke highlights the role of women in Jesus’ ministry.
Today we heard the names of Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna,
but there were many other women who followed Jesus:
Mary, mother of Jesus,
Salome, wife of Zebedee
Mary and Martha of Bethany
Mary of Clopas
…and many others who were not named.
All of these women were involved in Jesus’ ministry.
Some we don’t know many details,
but today’s we do.
They provided for Jesus and the 12 -out of their own resources.
It brings to mind the fact that
we don’t really know a lot about what everyday life was like for Jesus and his followers
for those 3 years of his ministry.
The logistics of how they traveled aren’t mentioned.
Where did they sleep?
How did they eat? What did they eat?
Were they on the road every day?
Did they ever see their families?
These verses give a glimpse about how they lived:
there were those that provided the means to allow the ministry to happen.
And at least 3 of them were women.
Without these women,
it’s fair to say that Jesus’ ministry would have been very different.
A question this raises for me is,
why do people do this?
Why did the Blanck family at some time or another
decide that they wanted to support Philadelphia Seminary?
Why did Noah and Barbara and Lynne want to support Jen?
Why does anyone choose to become a benefactor?
A few years ago, the BBC interviewed Dame Stephanie Shirley [iii]
Shirley came to the UK at 5 years old as an orphan during WWII.
She was part of the “Kindertransport,”
one of thousands of Jewish children sent away from home to live with foster families.
In 1962, Shirley founded a software company called Freelance Programmers.
It was unheard of for a woman to start a company in the 1960’s,
let alone a software company!
In order to grow her business, she found it necessary to change her name –
she changed it to Steve!
As her company grew, she amassed a fortune of over 150 million pounds.
She has given away most of it.
The BBC asked her why…
Shirley answered that she had been given so much herself,
what else could she do?
Warren Buffett is another person known for his philanthropy.
In his pledge to give 99% of his wealth away during his lifetime or at his death,
Warren Buffett says that he is motivated not by guilt, but by gratitude.
He attributes his wealth to the combination of:
“living in America, some lucky genes,
and compound interest.”[iv]
In short, he likes to say he is wealthy because he “won the ovarian lottery.”
Most of us have ‘won the ovarian lottery too.’
Do I feel guilty for having been born in the United States?
No, but I do feel extraordinarily grateful.
The more I travel, the more grateful I am.
The more people I meet who were born in different places,
in different circumstances, the more grateful I am.
I don’t know why Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna chose to support Jesus’ ministry.
But I suspect gratitude was part of their motivation too.
They had reason to be grateful…
There is another detail Luke tells us about them…
The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities…
These women benefactors had been healed and they were grateful.
Perhaps that’s why they chose to support Jesus.
They had been given so much, what else could they do?
Among the most faithful of Jesus’ followers were the women.
Today we honor them and give thanks for their witness.