So much ink has been spent on Mary Magdalene, that it is easy to lose sight of two other women who stand right beside her. Though Joanna and Susanna are named together in Luke, I’m going to look at them separately beginning with Susanna.
“... Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them (Jesus and the disciples) out of their own means.” (Luke 8:3)
It is easy to lose Susanna in the glow of the story of the Magdalene and the casting out of seven demons described in the previous verse. But Susanna has an exciting origin story in Daniel 13.
Some of you may be unfamiliar Daniel 13, Susanna and the elders. Why? Because most Protestant Bibles are based on the work of Martin Luther and he cut out texts (including this one) from the Bible he judged to be non-authentic.
In Daniel 13, Susanna, a young married woman, attracts the attention of the “elders,” old high-ranking men. They spy on her as she goes to bathe and finally accost her in bath and tell her that unless she has sex with them, they will accuse her of being with a young man. She refuses.
She cries out; they cry out and everyone ends up in court. Here it seems like the elders will prevail until Daniel separates the two men and in a brilliant cross-examination, asks them separately “under which tree did this occur?” Each elder gives a different answer and Susanna is saved from death and her reputation restored. Daniel’s wisdom prevents Susanna’s death.
Susanna’s salvation is a near thing. The men have number (two-to-one), authority (they are of the highest rank; she is not), and age on their side. Susanna only has the truth.
Why is this background story important? Because Luke’s audience would have known the story. Those hearing the name Susanna would have already been disposed to see her as a model of truth and virtue based on her name.
Luke’s Susanna stands with “many others.” Many other women. How many? We can’t say. And these women were “helping to support” Jesus and the disciples out of “their own means.”
How does that change our picture of first century womanhood? These women have means: income, funds. And these funds belong to them, are under their control. They are independent and drawn to Jesus and his message.
A group represented by Susanna helps to support Jesus by giving money, to help keep the disciples alive and to spread the message of Jesus.
Susanna and many other women are not just followers of Jesus. They are supporters. They provide the funds for Jesus to live his ministry. They have been so moved by his message that they reach into their own monies to keep the movement going and growing.
When I picture Jesus’ supporters, now I see Susanna, the truth-teller, and many women, alongside the men, donating the funds necessary to support the movement.
Ordinary women were there, providing support. Next week, Joanna, another shadowing woman provides a different kind of support.