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.
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.