Joanna: Whose somebody are you?

By Karen Johnson

Soon afterwards he [Jesus] went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. 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.
— Luke 8:1–3

Joanna is mentioned only twice in Scripture. We first find her name in Luke 8:3. She is said to be the wife of Chuza, a servant of Herod Antipas. Some Bible translations render Chuza’s position as “manager” (msg) or “household steward” (ceb), indicating that his role was domestic or economic, but whatever his specific role in Herod’s domain, Joanna’s spouse held a prestigious position that would have given her status and financial stability. She was able to support a movement that brought her new life (Luke 8:1–3).

Like her more famous companion, Mary Magdalene, Joanna had been afflicted with some infirmity, from which Jesus healed her. We know nothing more specific. Perhaps because of her social position, Joanna had to conceal the nature of her affliction. Perhaps because of her privileged position, she was able to conceal it. We do know that it was not until Jesus “cured” her that she came into her own as a follower of Christ.

In the company of Jesus, Joanna discovered an identity beyond that of “Chuza’s wife” and “wife of Herod’s steward.” She discovered her own ministry — supporting Jesus! And with Mary and the other unnamed women disciples, Joanna was among the first to arrive at the empty tomb (Luke 24:1–12). She was one of the first evangelists, the first to proclaim the good news of the resurrection!

How remarkable that God used women in a patriarchal society to announce the most important news the world could ever know. If God had not been revealed through the love of the Son, Jesus Christ, Joanna might never have realized that she was somebody to our creator, God.

I can identify with Joanna. During the Civil Rights Movement, when the poem “I Am — Somebody” bombarded the airwaves and newspapers, I did not identify personally with the words because I was not sure what “being somebody” meant. I was my parents’ child and my siblings’ sister. I was somebody in the middle — trying to keep up with my older brothers and away from my younger brother and sister.

Accepting Christ at a young age gave me a sense of identity, yet I was still out of place in my own skin. At 20, I became somebody’s wife and somebody’s mother. But then, somewhere in my 40s, I found my voice. I had something to say, and I was somebody.

Where did my voice come from? I finally became aware of myself when I began to look back at my life, at all the things I buried deep in my spirit — my hurts and pains, the joys and sorrows. Like Joanna, I had been somebody only in relation to others. When God called me to ministry, I knew whose somebody I was. I came to see my life’s experiences as part of my process to become who God needed me to be.

We are God’s somebody from birth (Genesis 1:26–27). God’s purpose for our lives is planned from the beginning and reveals itself in time. The things we go through to fulfill God’s purpose are life’s lessons. At times it seems we are nobody’s somebody until we go deep inside ourselves and the Holy Spirit reveals God’s self to us; then we know for sure whose somebody we are.

Abridged from Karen Johnson’s “Joanna” in “Through Her Eyes: Bible Studies on Women in Scripture,” Deborah Spink Winters, ed., Judson Press, 2016, pp. 116–19. Adapted with permission of the publisher.

Karen Johnson is associate minister at St. Paul’s Baptist Church, West Chester, Pa. She received a diploma in pastoral studies from Eastern University’s Palmer Theological Seminary, St. Davids, Pa., where she is currently pursuing a Master of Theological Studies.