“God’s anonymous: the women who followed Jesus”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
A little over five years ago, back in 2016, author Margot Lee Shetterly wrote a book called, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race. And why not? Her father, a research scientist, had worked with many of the book’s main characters. A year later, 20th Century Fox turned it into a movie, simply called, Hidden Figures.
And in that book, Shetterly followed the lives of three women who worked for NASA as mathematicians, what they at the time called “computers,” back in the days of the space race. And in spite of a certain amount of discrimination and segregation, they made mathematic, scientific and engineering history!
You see, back in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, we hadn’t yet sent a man into space. We were still trying to figure it out. And as you can imagine, there were quite a lot of things to figure out, like speed and altitude and trajectory, not to mention a heat shield to return the astronaut safely back to earth. But how would we do it, and who would figure it out?
That’s when certain “hidden figures,” women like Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson who, through sheer brilliance, made it possible for us to do what we did. In fact, just before John Glenn was launched into orbit in February of 1962, he said, “Get the girl to check the numbers. If she says the numbers are good, I am ready to go.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
If you think about it, there are countless men and women throughout history who were “hidden figures,” who worked behind the scenes quietly and tirelessly, so we could be who we are and where we are today.
So it is in the words of our text from the book of Luke chapter 8. I’ll begin at verse 1: “Soon afterward He went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means” (Luke 8:1-3).
The words of Luke chapter 8 take us to the beginning of Jesus’ life and ministry among us. He hadn’t yet fed the five thousand or the four thousand or taught His disciples to pray the Lord’s Prayer. That wouldn’t come till much later on.
But for now, as Luke wrote, Jesus simply went from one city to another and from one village to another, “bringing the good news of the kingdom of God” (Luke 8:1).
But He wasn’t alone. In fact, every one of the twelve disciples was with Him, following Him, learning from Him, and sitting at His feet. And along with those twelve men, there were others too. As Luke wrote: “Also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities” (Luke 8:2).
Let’s stop there for just a moment. Now if we had lived in that place and time, we would have been shocked to hear those words: “Also some women…” You see, back in ancient times, men had little, if any, time or respect for women at all.
Take Aristotle, for example. He said that man is, by nature, superior to women, so he should rule and women should be ruled. A Greek orator named Demosthenes wrote, “We keep courtesans for the sake of pleasure, female slaves for our daily bodily needs, and wives to bear us legitimate children and to be faithful guardians of our households.” Another wrote, “A man who teaches a woman to write should know that he is providing poison to an asp.” And Jewish rabbis taught that it was “better to burn the words of the Law than to deliver them to women.” They said, “There is no wisdom in woman except with the spindle.”
Even more, think about a woman’s typical life in Jesus’ day. Most lived not only in small towns, but in small homes, where daily life consisted of little more than baking, cooking, washing, and caring for children. They couldn’t go to school--that was for boys only. They were not to speak or be spoken to in the street, and they would walk behind their husband six paces. Every month, they were considered unclean for a week, and their testimony was never allowed in court. For all practical purposes, they were little more than property handed down from their fathers to their husbands.
Remember when Jesus met that Samaritan woman at the well? He said, “Please, give Me a drink,” and she said, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are You asking me for a drink?” (John 4:7, 9).
But as He lived and worked among us, He turned the world’s view of women upside down! When “a certain immoral woman” came to see Him at a Pharisee’s house, the Pharisee thought to himself, “If this man were a prophet, He would know what sort of woman this is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.” So Jesus told him a story about forgiveness and love. When a woman caught in the act of adultery was dragged, then thrown down in front of Him, He said, “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone” (John 8:7). And when Mary, Martha’s sister, poured perfume on His feet and Judas balked at the price, He said, “You leave her alone” (John 12:7).
Think of the miracles! He healed Peter’s mother-in-law, sick in bed with a fever and raised the son of a widow in Nain. When a woman was hopelessly bent over for eighteen years, He made her stand straight again, then called her a “daughter of Abraham.”
When He wanted to teach about prayer, He told a story about a woman and an unjust judge. To teach about His coming kingdom, He told of ten young women--five who were ready, and five who were not. And when He wanted to teach about God’s love for sinners, He told of a woman and her one lost silver coin.
Even more, from the very beginning, His mother Mary, her cousin Elizabeth and an old woman named Anna understood, before anyone else, just who He was and what He came to do. Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46). Elizabeth said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:42). And as Anna held Him in her arms, she “gave thanks to God, and spoke of Him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).
And who was with Him even to the very end? Not the disciples. Nearly every one of them had already turned and run away. But not the women. They were there, even to the very end. And when He arose on Easter day, they were ready and waiting to meet Him.
From the very beginning to the very end, Jesus turned the world’s view of women upside down.
Now when we picture Jesus preaching and teaching and healing, we often see Him roaming around Galilee with just the Twelve. But as Luke wrote in his gospel account, there were “also some women” who were with Him.
So who were they? Mary Magdalene was one of them and so was Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager(!), and another one named Susanna. Those are the ones we know. But also on that list were some others--God’s anonymous--what Luke recorded simply as “many others.”
How many? Was it five or ten or twenty? The Bible doesn’t say, so we may never know for sure.
But whoever they were and wherever they were from, Jesus had healed them. He had changed them. And from that moment on, they wouldn’t simply thank Him. They would serve Him and follow Him. They surrendered their lives to Him. They provided for Him. They prepared meals for Him. They washed His clothes. And while so many hated Him and even wanted to kill Him, they were there to help Him and support Him.
In the words of author James Hurley, “The most striking thing about the role of women in the life and teaching of Jesus is the simple fact that they are there.”
And since they lived and worked among the Twelve, they were the first to hear Him say, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” (Matthew 5:4), and “Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26), and “Who is My mother, and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:48-50).
Ever heard of a woman named Mary Anderson? Probably not, but I’m absolutely sure you’re familiar with an invention she made.
Let me take you back for a moment about a hundred years, all the way back to the year 1902. It’s when Theodore Roosevelt was our president, when J.C. Penney and Target opened their very first stores, and when Michigan and Stanford played in the very first Rose Bowl game.
So the year was 1902, and Mary was visiting some friends in New York City, where she was riding in a streetcar on a terribly snowy winter day.
And as she rode along, she couldn’t help but notice that, every few minutes or so, the driver would stop the streetcar, then step out to clean off the windshield. Even worse, as she looked at all the traffic around them, she saw that every other driver was doing exactly the same. In fact, she soon learned that, in New York, whenever it began to rain or snow, everyone was in a mad panic to clear their windows just so they could see where they were going, which, as you can imagine, caused some incredibly dangerous traffic and delays.
So she got to thinking--what if there was some sort of rubber blade that could wipe off the windshield, without making the driver get out of his car? And just as soon as she returned to her home in Birmingham, Alabama, she made a sketch of her device, asked a local company to make a working model, then applied for a patent. Then she added that not only could it be operated by a handle from inside the motor car, it was easily removable, “thus leaving nothing to mar the usual appearance of the car during fair weather.”
And sure enough, five months later, the United States Patent Office was good enough to award her a patent for her “Window Cleaning Device.”
There was just one problem--nobody was interested. In fact, when she tried to market it, one manufacturing firm wrote her back. They said, “Dear madam...we regret to state we do not consider it to be of such commercial value as would warrant our undertaking its sale.”
In other words, it’s a fine idea lady, but there’s just no possible way your “windshield wiper” will ever catch on.
Well, it did catch on. And even though she never received even a dime for her invention, back in 2011, 58 years after her death(!), she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
I don’t know what your calling is. I don’t know if you’re more like one of the named or the unnamed Bible’s women or men. But whoever you are, as Daniel March once wrote in the words of his hymn: “Let none hear you idly saying, ‘There is nothing I can do,’ while the multitudes are dying and the Master calls for you. Take the task He gives you gladly, let His work your pleasure be; answer quickly when He calls you, ‘Here am I, send me, send me!’”
We thank You, dear Father, for the witness of all the faithful women who followed You. Grant us such grace and humility to walk in Your footsteps, even to the cross, for Jesus’ sake. Amen