Our Gospel reading from Luke today begins with Jesus teaching and preaching in cities and villages. And then two peculiar verses follow before Jesus tells the parable of the sower. Those two verses say: The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. The clause that is stuck on the end of the second verse, who provided for them out of their resources, attracted my attention today.
Who is providing for whom? Are Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna providing for Jesus and the twelve out of their wealth and resources? Are the other unnamed women ("and many others") providing for Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna and not Jesus and the twelve? Are all the women providing for Jesus and the twelve out of their resources? Each understanding provides a different nuance to the story, particularly because it comes just before Jesus telling the parable of the seed that fell on paths, and rocks, and among thorns and some into good soil.
Why am I making such a point about the placement and understanding of these two verses? For three reasons: first, to illustrate that our translation of this verse is just one of many such interpretations, some of whom twist the story in a different direction. I find it to be an example that is illustrative of the difficulty found in trying to read Scripture literally, for to do so we can lose the nuance and beauty of the larger picture.
And second, because no matter which group of women was acting in this way, they were doing what Jesus preaches and teaches about in making the Kingdom present to us here and now. Whoever they were, whichever group, or all of them, they were providing for those in need from their abundance, from their resources. The nuanced point is that a group who were considered second-class (at best), who had few rights of personhood as we understand them, were the ones lifting up the potential of what the kingdom can look like and presenting it to all of us as a model to emulate.
And lastly, these two verses can get lost in the wonder and study of the parable of the sower that immediately follows. They shouldn't get lost though. They illustrate what "good soil" looks like.
Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: The Trotter Bowl at VTS, 2004, by The Rev. Allen Pruitt