By Elizabeth Prata
Yesterday I wrote about a named woman of the Bible called Joanna. Her life story, gleaned from what little we know of Luke’s two verses, seems interesting. I’m intrigued by these glimpses of the different people the Bible shows us.
Always remember these people are real people. They aren’t characters in a book, though they are in a book, THE Book. They really lived in a real culture and had feelings and families and tears and joys.
In my essay, I delved into Joanna’s life, and afterward I wondered for a good while what her life must have been like. I thought of her contrasted with Potiphar’s wife. Joanna was wife of Chuza, Tetrarch of Galilee. A Tetrarch was a Roman governor of a province or country. It’s a pretty high up position, and the Tetrarch’s steward would hold a high position of authority and status.
Potiphar was also steward of a rich man’s household. Potiphar was an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, another higher-up position. Joanna ministered to Jesus out of her means, was a disciple, and followed him loyally to Jesus’ death and beyond (being a proclaimer of His resurrection!). Potiphar’s wife, well, was greedy, immoral, a liar, and wronged her husband and God Himself with her evil ways. Anyway, that was just a small rabbit trail of comparing Joanna and Potiphar’s wife. Joanna, despite her high station in life, needed salvation.
Another woman of higher socio-economic status was Lydia, Seller of Purple. Purple was a color reserved for the richest of the rich, so Lydia’s clientele would have been kings and senators. We know she had means, because she owned a house large enough to accommodate Paul’s party. She also had servants. She was a well-known person of business located in a prosperous city. Despite her means and comforts in life, she needed salvation. The Lord graciously opened Lydia’s heart to the things of Jesus and she responded to Pau’s message. (Acts 16:14).
Another couple of people of high station in life were Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, THE Teacher of Israel. Joseph had been a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. Nicodemus was THE Teacher of Israel who visited Jesus at night. Joseph was from Arimathea, a ‘city of the Jews,’ so his conversion must have been startling to him, hence his secrecy. He was wealthy, a good and righteous man, the Bible says, and a member of the Sanhedrin. (Luke 23:50).
Joseph asked Pilate for the body of Jesus, finally going public with his devotion to His Messiah. Nicodemus the same, adding 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes to the burial. In today’s time, between the cost of Joseph’s tomb itself and Nicodemus’ spices, such a funeral would have cost $100,000-200,000. Isaiah prophesied, “He made His grave with the rich.” (Isaiah 53:9). Despite the two men’s wealth and high station in life, Joseph and Nicodemus needed salvation.
Jesus’ grace extended to the people considered refuse of society at the time, the lowest of the low: the beggars, tax collectors, and women. A blind man shouted to Jesus as He passed by. Crippled or blind or leprous people were considered sinners, because it was thought they would not have had these infirmities happen to them if they had been righteous. (Job 4:7, John 9:2).
The blind man had been alerted by the crowds’ hubbub, and had been told it was Jesus. Yet rather than try to help him (as friends did with the paralytic) people shouted the blind man down! But the blind man kept yelling, acknowledging Jesus as “Son of David”, a messianic title! Jesus’ grace gave this persistent blind man his sight. Jesus said it was his faith that made him well. (Luke 18:35-42). The blind man had needed salvation.
No person in Israel was hated more than a tax collector (publican), (unless it was a Samaritan). Tax Collectors were Jews working for Caesar, taking taxes for the occupying leader, which galled the oppressed Jews under Caesar’s occupying thumb. Tax collectors also were known widely to take MORE than their share, greedy and flagrant in their usury. They were seen as dregs of society and often were connected with prostitutes and thieves in the group called “sinner.” When Jesus said He would stay with tax collector Zacchaeus, it caused outrage and bedlam because the ‘righteous’ people thought this attention was beneath Jesus. But it wasn’t. Levi was a tax collector. Jesus saved Levi and he became Matthew; preacher, Gospel writer, and one of the pillars of the early faith. Levi/Matthew the tax collector needed salvation.
No one was hated more in Palestine than tax collectors unless it was a Samaritan.
The name “Samaritans” originally was identified with the Israelites of the Northern Kingdom (2 Kings 17:29). When the Assyrians conquered Israel and exiled 27,290 Israelites, a “remnant of Israel” remained in the land. Assyrian captives from distant places also settled there (2 Kings 17:24). This led to the intermarriage of some, though not all, Jews with Gentiles and to widespread worship of foreign gods. By the time the Jews returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and the walls of Jerusalem, Ezra and Nehemiah refused to let the Samaritans share in the experience (Ezra 4:1–3; Neh. 4:7). The old antagonism between Israel to the north and Judah to the south intensified the quarrel.Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 1436).
One contemptuous insult thrown at Jesus was that He was called “a Samaritan” (John 8:48). The Jews had “no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:9) right through to the day Jesus visited the place. In John 4 we read that not only did Jesus pass through Samaria, He stopped there. He had business at Jacob’s well, an appointment with a woman.
This was no ordinary middle class woman like Mary or Martha, and this was no wealthy woman like Lydia or Joanna. This was a woman, a Samaritan, and immoral, her status only one inch above a prostitute. Indeed, the disciples returned from getting provisions to see Him speaking with her, and “They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” ” (John 4:27).
The word marveled or amazed actually means, astonished out of one’s senses; awestruck. For Jesus to be talking with THIS woman almost knocked them senseless!
It was the sixth hour, or noon, and she was alone drawing water from the well. It was an hour she could be sure no one else was stirring. Women usually came to get water in the early hours and at dusk, when it was cooler, and in groups, for social purposes or safety. She was alone, in the heat of the day, likely because as we discover, she’d had many husbands and she was living in sin with a man not her husband at the time. She was likely notorious.
Jesus didn’t care about what the disciples thought. He didn’t care that the place was ‘in Samaria’ (oh, the horror! lol) because He is God of the entire earth with no socio-economic or ethnic divisions in His eyes… He cared about souls. He ministered to people. And here, the lowest of the low, a woman, a Samaritan, and an immoral person (three strikes!!) needed salvation.
Jesus is King of Souls. He has appointed a time and a place for every person who would believe to come into His kingdom. He cares not for their dirty garments, for He gives clean lines and robes of righteousness. He cares not if you live in a mansion or a hut, He extends His hand in grace to those He will convert. He cares about sin, but in His eyes we are all sinners, as low as the blind beggar or the immoral woman at the well. But never feel you are too low to need grace, whether the grace of conversion or the grace given in repentance to the saved when we sin.
Alternately, never think your wealth, position, status, or job will protect you. It wouldn’t have saved Lydia Seller of Purple, Joanna, wife of Herod’s steward, Nicodemus, THE Teacher of Israel, or Joseph of Arimathea from City of Jews. Cloaks of wealth or robes of works do not hide the truth from His omniscient eyes. You need grace too. I do as well.
He is full of grace.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14).
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (John 6:37)