Married With Jesus

October 17, 2014

wedding bands“I never noticed Joanna before!” a new friend said as she approached me at the end of a recent retreat in Colorado. “She was a married woman who served Christ! I really needed to hear that.”

This dear sister was talking about a name barely mentioned in an obscure but interesting passage in Luke 8:1-3:

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

To sum up, here’s all we know about Joanna:

– Formerly suffered from either a disease or evil spirit(s).
– Cured by Jesus.
– Married to Chuza, who was manager of Herod’s household.
– Traveled with Jesus (Chuza not included).
– Provided financial support to Jesus and the Twelve.

It’s not much, but it’s enough to trigger a double-take. In light of what we know about women’s lives in first-century Jewish patriarchal culture, it raises some questions:

– Was Jesus actually OK with this?
– Why didn’t he send her back to have children and manage her home (as Paul counseled women to do in I Timothy 5:14)?

As my friend’s reaction illustrates, even in some Christian contexts today, it is a surprising twist. After all, in many churches where teachings about the family are taken primarily from the New Testament epistles, we hear over and over that

– husbands are to be the spiritual leaders of the family,
– wives must submit to their husband’s spiritual leadership, and
– running a home smoothly and catering to her husband’s needs is a wife’s primary calling from God.

There doesn’t seem to be much room for a wife to take charge of her own spirituality and hit the road with Jesus. When we include the Gospels in our repertoire, however, we see a broader perspective. There are women like Joanna, whom Luke purposely chose to include in his account and who do not fit the mold we have cobbled together from statements made by Paul. She wouldn’t have been there if Jesus had not been OK with it.

The Gospels tell us that Jesus interacted with women as independent, competent individuals. His relationship with even married women was direct and never mediated through another man. In the Gospels, the only woman Jesus addressed in the presence of her husband was his mother.

Who knows why Chuza wasn’t along on this trip? Maybe he couldn’t get away from work. Maybe he didn’t feel a personal calling to literally follow Jesus, but agreed that his wife should follow the call she received. Or maybe he wasn’t even a believer. All we know is that newly healthy Joanna was right where Jesus wanted her to be.

Married Christian women often end up with a tension between their devotion to God and their devotion to their husband. Sometimes we’d like to chuck everything and run after Jesus right along with Joanna, but it’s not always the right thing to do. Paul acknowledged this tension even in the first century:

“An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband.” (I Corinthians 7:34)

What we learn from the Gospels is that while there is a tension, while the demands of marriage diminish capacity to be singularly devoted to God, he still expects us to lay down our lives, take up our crosses, and love Jesus more than anything else.

Here are some principals I would suggest in balancing this tension:

  1. Jesus wants a direct relationship individually with you, even if you are married. You are responsible for that relationship and for responding to God’s personal call to you.
  2. Your top priority is to love God, then your husband, and then your children if you have them. (If either of the latter two engage in selfish, harmful behavior or demand a higher priority, then love dictates that you confront them about it, not tolerate or submit to it.)
  3. You are not responsible for your husband’s relationship with God, or your husband’s calling to serve God, or your husband’s response to that calling. That’s between him and God.
  4. Partner with your husband in ministry whenever the opportunity arises and you both feel called to a particular service. It’s great!
  5. Sometimes, Christ may call you into direct service to him in a ministry that doesn’t include your husband. When that happens, keep the communication lines open both with the Lord and with the hubby.
  6. If you feel called to sacrifice so much of yourself to Jesus that your relationship with your husband suffers, then you should reassess your perception of your mission. You may be using Jesus as an excuse to avoid dealing with unpleasant issues at home.

Here’s the part where I must acknowledge that, being in the middle of a divorce myself, I don’t look like the most credible source on how to successfully juggle Jesus and marriage. I do have 32 years’ experience being married, though, along with 52 years’ experience with following Jesus. There were a lot of things on both counts that I could have done better over the years. Yet, I did a lot of things right, things I would do the same all over again.

The best thing I did was cling to Jesus, try to discern his call for me, and maintain my spiritual life regardless of where my husband was in his walk with God. Sometimes we walked with God together, and sometimes he felt called to other things, and I walked on alone. And now that our relationship has ended, God keeps calling me to walk on.

I agree with my friend in Colorado. I’m really glad Luke told us that Joanna was along on that road trip with Jesus. And I love Jesus for inviting her to follow him, even if it meant leaving Chuza behind for a little while.

I expect that her up-close-and-personal time with Jesus made her a better partner than she could ever have been if she had only stayed behind and brushed up on her housekeeping.

photo credit: Caucas’ via photopin cc

One response to “Married With Jesus”

  1. Linnea says:

    Lynn! What a treat to read this. Who knew that my comment would spur a deeper, yet richer reflection on the topic of married women following Jesus? Thank you for the post and for the thoughtful, thorough insight into the tension that we Christian marrieds experience and bringing a broader perspective to shed Scripture’s light on the issue. You are so right – just like Joanna, I have been healed & rescued by Jesus and he is my priority. But he gave me a husband to love and be a helper to – also a gift and a priority. Thank you for sharing!!

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