Joanna the Myrrhbearer vs. Bartimaeus

Today in Lent Madness, we head back to the Biblical quadrant as Joanna the Myrrhbearer takes on Bartimaeus. The winner will face Joseph in the Elate Eight. Should Joanna have brought gold or frankincense instead? We'll soon find out.

Yesterday Harriet Tubman swept past James Solomon Russell 75% to 25%. She'll lock horns with Herman of Alaska in the Elate Eight.

Joanna the Myrrhbearer

“Hardly anyone knows Joanna,” Elisabeth Moltmanm-Wendel writes in “The Women Around Jesus.”

Theologians largely have ignored Joanna’s presence in the biblical texts, according to Moltmann-Wendel. So have many authors writing about the women of the Bible. And a journalist reviewing a modern biography of Jesus (not this journalist) once mocked the “fabrication” of a character named Joanna.

Joanna is named just twice in Luke’s Gospel: first, among the female disciples who followed Jesus and bankrolled his ministry, and then among the women who came to prepare Jesus’ body for burial (hence the myrrh) and found his tomb empty.

But legend and scholarship fill in many of the blanks in Joanna’s story.

Most colorfully, Orthodox tradition has Joanna chasing down John the Baptist’s head.

Luke identifies Joanna’s husband as Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household, which must’ve been awkward when Chuza’s boss had Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist beheaded. The Gospels tell us that John’s body was retrieved by his followers, and tradition, that his head was tossed in an unclean place.

Joanna, perhaps thumbing her nose, went after John’s head and gave it an honorable burial — on Herod’s estate.

Scholar Richard Bauckham, in his book “Gospel Women,” fills in Joanna’s Jewish background, how lavish her life would have been as a member of the Herodian court, the freedom that would have allowed her to give generously to Jesus’ ministry, how wide a gulf she crossed in following Jesus to the margins.

Bauckham writes that she could have remained a "sympathizer with Jesus’ movement without leaving her home and social location.” “But Joanna took the step of discipleship, for her a step across the whole of the social gulf that separated the Tiberian elite from the ordinary people, not to mention the beggars, the prostitutes, and other outcasts with whom Jesus habitually associated,” he said.

She may even have been one of Luke’s sources for his Gospel.

John Bunyan also writes in “The Pilgrim’s Progress” about Joanna and the female disciples: “I read not, that ever any many did give unto Christ so much as one groat; but the women followed him, and ministered to him of their substance.”

And were you hoping to see Joanna’s Round of 32 opponent Junia in the Saintly 16, I bring you good news of great joy: Some believe Joanna is the same person as Junia, identified as “outstanding among the apostles” in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Everybody won that round. And everybody wins for Joanna’s contributions to Jesus’ ministry and to the early church.

Emily McFarlan Miller


Bartimaeus the beggar made the plea
“Son of David, please have mercy on me!”
Drawn to what he deemed right
In his faith he gained sight;
May that blind man’s gift of light come to me. (Lent Madness limerick by John Cabot)

Bartimaeus’ simple prayer, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” has been prayed by many people throughout time. This prayer has been used in sermons and bible studies and healing services and some even attribute it as being the basis of The Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me." Some recite the Jesus Prayer and include a last part, “a sinner” to show repentance. The Jesus prayer is used widely throughout the Orthodox Church and many other Christian denominations.

Both prayers are said to be used as mantras (or, repetitive prayers) that heal, restore, ground, and balance and are powerful especially because they invoke the name of Jesus and demonstrate our need of saving. The prayers can be used in monastic life and in everyday life and are usually said using a prayer rope. They can also be used in combination with breathing techniques such as invoking the name of Jesus while inhaling and asking Jesus to have mercy on us while exhaling.

Another way of approaching Bartimaeus’ story is by focusing on the conversation he had with Jesus and using that as a catalyst for personal conversations with Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks Bartimaeus and everyone. As this prayerful conversation starts, each person can start by taking deep breaths and thinking about the question and specific answers in their hearts. It did not take Bartimaeus long to answer but it could be because he had been waiting for years to be near Jesus and have Jesus’ undivided attention. It may take others a long time to believe that Jesus is asking them that question.

Oh that we may be as bold as Bartimaeus, to stand up, be loud, not give up, and ask for what we want.

-- Sandra Montes

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96 comments on “Joanna the Myrrhbearer vs. Bartimaeus”

    1. I enjoy your posts everyday - thank you for them. Does anyone know how John Cabot is doing? I am concerned we’ve heard nothing from him in awhile...

      1. Yes, Robyn, where and how is John Cabot doing? It is concerning we have not seen his lyrics which were typically the first Comment of each match.

      2. John is well, he is very busy with tasks in our parish St. Peter Beverly (MA) related to the pandemic. Check out our Facebook page to see a video replay of Morning Prayer from this past Sunday. John assisted our Rector, Manny Faria.

        In addition, John is helping a lot of people individually. He went to Whole Foods for me and my husband while we were under quarantine due to possible exposure to the virus. Fear not! He’ll be back to Lent Madness!

      3. Not to worry. As Susan points out, I've been reading and posting much later over the last few days, as I am busy with other tasks for much of the morning nowadays.

        I was torn today, as my bracket pick is Joanna, yet Sandra Montes did me the honor of including my earlier homage to Bartimaeus in her homily today. For this day of Lent, I will abstain from limericking. If you haven't seen my recent efforts, you can find them at and

  1. No contest for me today. The story of Bartimaeus has never failed to move me ever since I was a child. While I admire Joanna, blind Bartimaeus' blind faith does it for me.

  2. I use the Jesus prayer a lot, particularly in walking and when using Anglican prayer beads, so Bart is tempting. But today, in honor of all of Jesus's women followers, who were buried in obscurity and denied by male church leaders for a couple of thousand years, I cast my vote for Jo!

    1. I am in the midst of reading Rebecca Solnit's book of essays "Men Explain Things to Me". I have to vote for Joanna who was silenced. But no more.

  3. Bartimaeus' story is a story of healing and so many world-wide need physical healing right now.

    I put Bartimaeus on my bracket thinking he was the St. Bart of the Sherlock show. The London teaching hospital is actually St Bartholomew's Hospital, silly on me 🙂 , but I'm going to stick with the healing aspect.

    All, be well.

  4. As a deacon I vote for Joanna. She took action in ways that were needed for Jesus’ ministry. Bartemeus is honored for blind faith, and that is not wrong at all, but Joanna took practical action on Jesus’ behalf.

  5. I was named after a preacher named Joseph. I am often called 'Joanna'. Setting up a interpersonal showdown, I'm voting for Joanna

  6. I wanted to vote for Joanna. Her contributions to the Jesus Movement, to sharing the good news, to bravely doing whatever she can (and more!) set a wonderful example of discipleship.

    But Bartmeus' cry out to Jesus is one that took me a long time to learn. My transformation from an efficient and organized Joanna to a desperate beggar for mercy has been a long road of leaving safety behind to be closer to Jesus.

    1. "A long road of leaving safety behind to be closer to Jesus" really spoke to me. In a terrible time for me, I finally understood the difference between faith and trust and entered a state that I called "the state of not knowing," trusting God, finally, to see me through. It felt like stepping off a cliff, entering blindness, but giving up needing to know something I couldn't know, I think I truly heard Jesus ask, "What is it you want from me?" and I could answer "God's limitless mercy."

  7. Bartimaeus . . . The Jesus Prayer . . . countless times I have prayed this when anxiety rises up - "Lord Jesus Christ" (breathe in, receive a fresh infilling of His presence, peace, power), "have mercy on me" (breathe out, release everything that weighs down the heart and mind)

  8. Bartimaeus had insight (inward sight) when all around him who were blessed with physical sight lacked spiritual sight. Even though he could not see Jesus, he knew who he was. The granting of physical sight was entirely a manifestation of the spiritual reality of his sight. He courageously testified to the reality of Jesus as healer in the face of tremendous opposition, speaking truth to power. He knew his need for God. I once heard the first beatitude (blessed are the poor in spirit) translated as “blessed are those who know their need for God). Bartimaeus epitomizes that blessedness for me, and I will always be grateful for his insight and courage of faith.

    1. Also, maybe Joanna did contribute gold as well as myrrh. Since she supported Jesus' ministry financially, may we all remember her example during Stewardship Week in our own parishes.

      1. So right about Joanna's contributions, which would be good to emulate with a check in the mail right about now as the collection plates gather dust and the pews stand empty.

  9. Thanks to Bartimaeus for reminding us that Jesus asks of us all what we want from him. His faith continues to inspire us and aways will.
    I voted for Joanna because she went the distance in so many ways. May we be inspired by her example.

    1. Good to “hear” your voice, Ed! Speaking wisdom quietly and clearly, as usual. That rendering of the Beatitude is from the New English Bible, I believe. I heard Bishop Frank Allan preach on it years ago, and it always comes to mind when I read that passage, whatever the translation.

      You make a powerful point, my friend, but I am voting for the quiet wisdom and faithful service of Joanna.

  10. While Bartemeus cry of faith to Jesus was profound...Joanna put her life and her family's future on the line by aiding Jesus so my vote went there.

  11. A very hard choice today. The Jesus Prayer and, even more, hearing Jesus' question, "What do you want me to do for you?" adressed to me have been rich gifts to me over the years. OTOH, Joanna's willingness to leave her privileged social location to follow Jesus speaks a persistent (so far unanswered) call I've heard for years. As the latter challenge is more pressing and present, she gets my vote.

      1. I think she means the picture for Bartimaeus today, which is a bit difficult for me: the short figure by the gate is Bartimaeus, the one with arms open is Jesus, and the other 3 are 'the crowd'? Anyway, two to decide between who have little chance of going forward in the Elate 8. B speaks to the needy, Joanna to the giving. Perhaps today, I should do more giving...

  12. Poor blind Bart. Once again he is rejected. He has a very important place in Jesus narrative, but it seems it's not enough either in Jesus time or ours.

  13. We women do not get enough praise for what we do behind the scenes! Joanna Gets my vote again for the female movement in the WORLD! We are always working in the background and getting everything done in a peaceful manner!

  14. As several people have noted over the last few days, the choices just get harder and harder. I voted for both of these saints in the first round, and I would be pleased to vote for both of them again! (But, of course, I didn't -- one vote per person.) I voted for Joanna for her sacrifice in leaving a life of privilege to become literally a follower of Jesus. If more people of privilege in our age would do that, we could maybe resolve the problems of climate change and inexcusable poverty.

  15. I voted for Joanna because of the image of her thumbing her nose at Herod as she rescued John's head for proper burial. It reminded me of Thomas More's daughter venturing out onto London Bridge to take her father's head down off the pike. Nevertheless, a big thank you to Sandra for focussing on prayer. Thank you for reminding us of varieties of prayer and of the way in which prayer is essential to our being. As Clare said, Active life or contemplative life? Yes.

  16. Bartimaeus's story is one of my favorites of all the stories of healing, probably because of my own impaired vision. Jesus asks different things of people in different circumstances, so of course all of us respond differently, according to who we are and what we have to give. No one is superior or inferior; we are all blessed by God who calls us to follow Jesus.

  17. I wanted to vote for Joanna since, as a female emergency physician, I know all too well the difficulty women have in this sexist world [in US alone we've had a Black president and a gay candidate made a lot of progress in advancing, but heaven forbid a WOMAN be a considered serious candidate for presidency] but Bartimaeus speaks to my own spirituality of finding praying the Jesus prayer a healing, calming hope [especially as I treat patients in these trying times and risk exposure to the coronavirus]

  18. Story sounds familiar-contributes what she can, does the things that should be done but don't get done and gets no recognition for it.
    My soldier son Matt calls me Ms Joanna so she gets my vote today.

  19. Another day, another difficult decision. I have voted for each of these in the past rounds, and love both saints. My vote was decided for Joanna today by the intriguing idea that she and Junia might be one and the same. I like the idea too, that Joanna, who contributed financially to Jesus and also took myrrh to the the tomb, is a wise woman bearing gold and myrrh worthy of mention with the Magi.

  20. Bartemaeus literally moved from darkness to light. That is a recurrent theme in the New Testament and, I think, often gets overlooked when talking about this story. "What do you want [Jesus] to do for you?" Help me move from darkness to the light of Your glory.

  21. This was enlightening, we all know the story of Bartemateus, learned something new about Joanna. Did not know she buried the head yJohn the Baptist. She had to have been one strong lady, physically, intellectually & spiritually!0