A Foot in Two Kingdoms
Luke 8:1 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, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
Men and women comprised the inner-circle of Christ-followers. Here we see that the twelve were with him as well as some of the women, identified as Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna. It is the woman Joanna who finds herself in a very curious position. Her husband is the steward of Herod Antipas, the very man who had Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, beheaded. She would have been a woman of means financially, but also her husband’s position and status could result in great tension in her life.
It is assumed that Luke’s “insider” knowledge of the house of Herod probably came from Joanna. We don’t know too many details of her life be we can speculate. She is mentioned both here and at the empty tomb and yet, she is usually overlooked and most would not even recognize where she is found in scripture. But when we stop and ponder a moment one has to wonder what the balancing act was like — trying to be a faithful follower of Christ while still connected to the kingdom of the world. Somehow she must have been able to leverage funds from her husband to support the work of Christ. And so here we find someone living with the tension of having a foot in both kingdoms.
We don’t really know how Joanna’s life plays out but there is some speculation. Ben Witherington (Bible Review, 2005) provides us with an interesting suggestion regarding her life. He postulates that she is the woman whom we find in Romans 16:7 by the name of Junia. Joanna is a Hebrew name, which is the name that Luke would have used. Junia is the Latin version of the name Joanna, which Paul would have used. Most scholars agree that Junia and Andronicus are listed as a couple, a husband and wife team. This would not fit with Joanna’s husband’s name, Chuza for Andronicus is Greek. However, it is highly likely that the strain on the marriage may have been too great for Chuza. We never read that he becomes a follower of Jesus Christ and financially supporting Jesus’ ministry while serving Herod may have made him angry with his wife. It is suggested that he divorces Joanna because of her faith and that she ends up remarrying Andronicus, a fellow follower of Christ — both of whom are well known among the apostles.
Whether this is the scenario for her life of not, she was a woman who found herself trying to live faithful to Christ while in great tension with the kingdom of the world. The world is not our home and the kingdoms of this world are not the ones whom we are to serve. When the Church and the governments become intertwined it can be difficult to discern where we belong. Joanna had to try and figure this out for herself and it probably cost her everything. In those early years of Christianity it cost many people everything!
What does it cost us to follow the Lord? We may fail to realize that in many parts of the world Christianity has been living with a favored status for a long period of time. This, however, seems to be changing at a rather rapid pace. The uncomfortable nature of the changing climate is that we have somehow become accustomed to having one foot in each world and we have thought we could get by living in this way. Joanna had to ultimately make a choice. Along the way many of the disciples left Jesus, but not Joanna. She and Mary go together to the tomb and discover that he is risen! She chooses the kingdom of God over the kingdom of the world.
Trying to juggle two kingdoms, to keep them both happy doesn’t work. Ultimately we have to make a decision one way or another. This family may have ended up divided. Chuza going with the world, and Joanna with God. If Ben Witherington’s suggestions are true, we never hear of Chuza again, and Joanna/Junia goes down in history as an apostle of Jesus Christ. She chose the eternal kingdom.
Lord, please help me have the courage to serve firmly and entirely in your kingdom. Amen.
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