Joanna is mentioned only twice in the New Testament. We first hear of her near the beginning of Jesus’s ministry as she travelled around Galilee with him:
Luke 8:1-3 8 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.
And the other reference is as one of the women who were the first to report that Jesus was raised to life
Luke 24:8-10 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.
So here we have a woman who was with Jesus from the beginning, who travelled with him, supporting him and the other disciples out of her own resources, and who was there at his death and his resurrection. It is certain that if women had been regarded as equal with men in the society of the time, Joanna would have been named as one of the apostles!
So who was she? Well, all we know is that she was the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward. He had a position of responsibility and influence in the court of Herod, but he knew that Herod would not think twice about removing or even killing those who displeased him. Joanna was taking a risk by following Jesus. Not only was she associating with a potential troublemaker for Herod, but she was also associating with lowly fishermen, village folk from rural Galilee, and social outcasts like Mary Magdalene. And from the perspective of the other disciples, she was as unlikely a fellow disciple as was Matthew the tax collector. Her association with the court of Herod would most probably make the Galileans suspicious and even antagonistic towards her. But she overcame this and supported them financially, becoming the servant of those who were from a servant class.
Joanna remained loyal to Jesus and the other disciples, despite the risks to her position. She travelled with Jesus, and despite the risk to herself and her husband, she remained loyal, staying with him all the way through the crucifixion. She was one of those who then went to the tomb to anoint his body and was one of the first witnesses to his resurrection.
Little else is known of Joanna. She did not go on to found churches, or become a great teacher or a writer of letters, but she gave her life, dying as she lived, in loyalty to Jesus. We will never know how much influence she had in the lives of her peers at the court of Herod, or the higher social strata in which she moved. But in the days when the word and testimony of women counted for little, the gospel narrative records her deeds and her witness. She must have been considered to be one of Jesus’s most loyal and closest followers.
By Jane Micklethwaite