Getting to the Heart of Luke
Rev. Phillip Blackburn
June 30, 2019
For several years, one never walked through the Blackburn home without shoes. To do so was to risk an acute form of torment. Luckily, we had wood floors in our home in Illinois so that mitigated the risk, but still, I rarely walked through without something on my feet. Why? Legos. Our home had a lot of legos. And if your home as ever had a lot of legos, then you know what happens. Most of those legos are snapped together to form an important creation, in our home they formed castles and Star Wars vehicles. But the downside of legos is that sometimes they became unsnapped and the stray lego would find its way into a path. Inevitably that lego would be discovered the hard way, as my foot landed firmly upon it. I always hoped I just wasn’t carrying anything. Then I would say something one doesn’t say in church, and I would pick it up.
The good thing about a stray lego is that it doesn’t seem all that important. Sometimes I would toss it in Calum’s room. Other times I would just throw it away. A bunch of legos together, now that is something. But one lego that has managed to escape, that one doesn’t really need to be considered. So why am I talking about Legos this morning? Well, that is simple. Because this passage is something of a stray Lego.
If you have ever worked your way through the Gospel of Luke the odds are pretty high that you never really considered this passage. It does not feel all that significant. It’s stuck between two far more notable passages. Jesus doesn’t say anything. It’s a traveling passage, really, moving us from one scene to the next as quickly as possible. It’s sort of a stray Lego, and not even the sort that inflicts enough discomfort to get our attention. Rather it is more like the Lego that falls in a corner and stays there until you move because you never even notice it.
But hypothetically, what if it’s not a stray Lego. What if this passage has more significance than we know? Before we reconsider it, I want you to remember that to call women in Luke’s time second class citizens would have been kind. They were largely afterthoughts. It was difficult for them to own property, they were traded off in marriage in a manner similar to livestock, and they were not allowed to testify in court because women, as a whole, were not seen as reliable witnesses. I could go on, but you get the picture.
So our little stray Lego is more important than it first seems because it is actually an affirmation of the role of women in Jesus’ work. Yes, Luke thought it was appropriate to write about the women who were traveling with Jesus. And there is a lot here that is interesting. He names three of them: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna, so let’s talk about them. I’ll tell you this is the only place in the Gospel we meet Susanna and we don’t know much about her, except we can assume that because she was named she was significant to some people who would have read this Gospel in the early church. We don’t know her, but people did. But Mary Magdalene and Joanna, we know a little about. First, we know Mary was freed from seven demons and after that was a constant presence at Jesus’ side. We also know, thanks to Dan Brown, that she and Jesus were secretly married. Oh wait, nevermind. We also know she was a prostitute. Except, wait a minute. We don’t know that is any more of a fact than the Dan Brown business because nowhere in Scripture does it say she was a prostitute or had any sexual immorality at all. We have made that up. So anyway, we know that.
And Joanna is just as interesting. We hear from her again at the resurrection, where Luke names her as one of the many women who were present at the tomb on Easter morning. Further, we learn here she was the spouse of one of the King’s stewards. This is no small thing because it means she was loaded. Add in the fact that she is said to be traveling around with Jesus, we can assume that she has left, at least for the moment, her husband’s household and is out there independently. She must have been pretty interesting.
Finally, we learn something else. These women were footing the bill for this whole party. Most of the disciples, as we recall, were poor. These ladies were not. Luke tells us that they “provided for them.” How do we know that it was the women who paid? The word “they” is in the feminine. It was the ladies paying. I could go on, but Luke wants to make one thing abundantly clear, women were vital to the work of the early church. They went everywhere with Jesus. They paid for stuff. And they were the ones who told the disciples he had risen from the dead. They were not, we can safely assume, relegated to teaching children’s Sunday school and singing in the praise band.
So why does this matter? We already ordain women. We have women in leadership. We are good on this count. It matters for a couple of reasons. First, it matters because so many churches are getting this wrong. They are looking at the Bible and seeing only the passages, written later than these I might add, which seek to marginalize women thus reaffirming their preexisting beliefs. And it matters secondly, and I believe most importantly because Luke is making a point not just about women, but about humanity.
Jesus was not just for certain people, or one type of people. He was for all people. I feel like we have a problem with this in our hearts and minds. I feel like one of the things we do is to, consciously or subconsciously, diminish the humanity of other people. As if there are some people that are more human than other people. For Jesus, this was not true and Luke wants to make that clear. In fact, I would submit that in the early church this great flattening out of humanity was one of the most compelling aspects of our faith. What is it that Paul wrote in Galatians, “there is no slave or free, no Jew or Greek, no male or female, but all are one in Christ Jesus.” There is a oneness to humanity, and that oneness is not located in our DNA, or gender, or skin color, or nationality. That oneness is rooted in the fact that all of us are valued by the God who sent his son to die for the world.
Every once in a while, it is important for we Christians to pause and reexamine all those presuppositions we have in our minds; all those things we assume to be true. When we come to Scripture with all those old associations and ideas it inevitably means we miss things that are important. Women, from the very beginning, were vital to the work of Jesus Christ. Vital. And so they are today. And Luke’s three little verses here remind us that we can never assume we know or understand who is in Jesus’ gang and who is on the outside. We worship a savior who came for everybody, for jew and Greek, male and female, rich and poor, American and non-American. Everybody. All of humanity is united in our need for a savior, and the love of God that savior represents in the world. This is not a throwaway passage, for all we know, when we snap it into place with its other friends, it is one of the most important in the entire Bible. Amen.