Who Were the Women Who Followed Jesus?
It may seem odd to spend an article discussing the women who followed Jesus during his ministry. However, readers must keep in mind ancient texts seldom spent a great deal of time mentioning females. When they did, they often did so in derogatory terms:
- The Greek poet Hesiod warned against women, claiming a flattering woman just wants a man simply for his possessions (Theogony of Work and Days).
- Aristotle viewed women as inferior to men when it came to leadership (Politics).
- Statesman and orator Pericles said, “A woman’s reputation is highest when men say little about her, whether it be good or evil.” (Hipponax).
Readers can find a sampling of other statements said about women in ancient times here.
In a court of law, a women’s testimony would not have held up back then, and so the women first witnessing the resurrection would have made the story far less credible to the contemporary of that time.
Ancient views of women aside, the Gospels appear to spend a great deal of time on women, opposed to their textual counterparts. Who were these women who followed Jesus? What can we know about them individually? And what can we learn from them?
Jesus exorcises seven demons from Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:1-3), and she follows Him after He heals her. Seven, whether symbolic or literal, meant a great many in ancient texts. This proved Jesus’ power over the forces of darkness and His ability to save us from even the most dire of circumstances.
Some readers mistake Mary for the prostitute who washed Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-50), but no biblical support equates the two.
Mary witnessed Jesus’ death, and was the first of the women to see the resurrected Jesus (John 20:11-18). When all the disciples except for John had fled during Jesus’ trial and execution, she stood by to comfort him.
Lessons learned from Mary: No one is ever too far gone from salvation. If Jesus could free Mary from seven demons, and she, in turn, could become one of His most loyal followers, then He can transform us.
Mary the Mother of James and Joses, and Salome
The first, Mary, was the mother of one of Jesus’ disciples: James (Matthew 27:55-61). She provided for Jesus’ ministry via financial means, and two of her sons seemed to follow from Galilee to Jerusalem alongside her. She witnessed Jesus’ death and, likely, His resurrection (Mark 16:8).
Salome, the mother of the other James and John, asked if her sons could receive “places of honor” in God’s kingdom (Matthew 20:20-21). She also witnessed Jesus’ death and resurrection, as one of the women at the tomb.
Lessons learned from these women: Even when God gives our children places in ministry, that does not mean we have no place in ministry as well. These mothers gave up everything to follow Jesus and provide for His ministry. When their sons fled the cross, they stayed behind and had a chance to be the first witnesses to His miraculous work three days later.
Joanna the wife of Chuza, and Susanna
A group of women listed in Luke 8:1-3 (including Mary Magdalene) provided for Jesus’ ministry and needs “out of their private means.”
Although not an anomaly for women to have a job in ancient times, it was rarer. These women, healed by Jesus’ ministry, decided to give up financial means in order to follow him.
Joanna, a wife of an important court official, would’ve had many resources to give and she does so heartily. She also may have had to give up social standing as well, given women were not supposed to “socialize” with men outside of their family, according to this article.
Susanna does not have a noted family member listed by her name, such as Joanna. She gave nevertheless, whether she had great means or little to speak of. Grateful that Jesus has healed her physically and spiritually, she accompanies Him and His disciples in their ministry.
Lessons learned from these two: Whether the Lord has blessed us with great means or very little, we ought to give back to reflect the gratitude in our hearts that He has healed us.
Many Other Women
Although these women go unnamed in the Gospel, they gave up time, talents, and their own livelihoods to follow him. In a time where women could not associate with men from outside their family, they sacrificed social standing, familial strain, and likely a loss of friendships to follow Him. But they did so gladly, and many stood loyal and remained to receive the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:1-4.
What Does This Mean for Us?
We have no excuse not to give our all to Jesus. Women during His time had little say, and at times, very little means. But they still surrendered everything to Him, especially to express gratitude for His miraculous work in their lives.
We may feel as though our time has passed as we watch our children step into ministerial roles, but that didn’t stop Mary and Salome. Or we might worry about how our peers will evaluate us or if we do not measure up, in comparison with our believing friends and family. Still, that never stopped Joanna, Susanna, and Mary Magdalene.
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