So imagine this. There are thirteen men. They are all unemployed. They are also homeless, in a manner of speaking. They have left their homes and families and have walked away from their jobs. We don’t know about all of them, but we can account for at least five of them. Two of them have left a very successful business, two others have also left their businesses, which we presume were fairly successful, and one has left a very high paying government job. Twelve of these men are wandering about the country, walking, following their leader whose name is Jesus. They accept a bed at night whenever and wherever it is offered to them, and sometimes people invite them in for a meal. And for the rest of the time, they eat what they can and they sleep outside. As best we can tell, they have no income except what kind people give them.
Now think about this. Try to calculate what it would cost to feed thirteen mean three meals a day or even two meals a day. And what it would cost to replace thirteen pairs of sandals for thirteen men when they wore theirs out, walking all over the place. Not to mention new clothing once in a while, and medical care, or blankets at night when they had to sleep under the stars. I plugged in some numbers very quickly and came up with about $400 per day in today’s dollars. Over a three year period of time that comes up to over $400,000.
And who do you suppose provided the funds for Jesus and his twelve disciples? Who bought their food and their sandals and their blankets? Who do you suppose went to the markets for them and bought grapes and bread and fish and yogurt and prepared their meals and made sure they ate good food on time? Who do you think took care of them when their feet had blisters or they were sick?
A group of women did. Their names (some of their names) are in our bulletin for today. We don’t know all of them, of course, and what little we do know about them we have to get by reading between the lines. You notice that it’s a tentative list. There were undoubtedly many women whom we have no clue about. And there may be some overlapping. It may be that Mary the wife of Clopas, could also be the mother of James and Joseph, for instance. And it may be that Salome was the name of the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee. And maybe she was the sister of Jesus’ mother Mary which would have made her Jesus’ aunt. (Are you following all this?) Sometimes all we know about them, for sure, are their names, which are given to us in the Scriptures we have just read.
It’s pretty clear that Mary Magdalene was the leader of the group, and her name is mentioned most often and always first. As we put it together, she must have been suffering from a serious mental illness. Jesus healed her, and ever thereafter she was his grateful, devoted, generous follower. And that was also true for Joanna and Susanna. They had also been suffering with serious mental health issues. They had also been healed by him, and in their gratitude, they contributed funds for his care. These women followed him also, right along with the men we know like Peter and James and John and Matthew and Phillip and all the others. They all followed behind Jesus in that entourage we are always imagining as he went from place to place. Every day for three years all up and down the countryside.
As far as we can tell, all of them except Mary and Martha the sisters of Lazarus were from Galilee, up there in the northern part of the country, where Jesus began his ministry. Some of these women were wealthy in their own right, or were married to wealthy men. We have an indication that Zebedee, for instance, was a very wealthy business man – who owned a fishing fleet with several employees on the Sea of Galilee. And his wife may have supported Jesus through his income. After all, two of her sons were in the group that followed Jesus. She would have wanted to see them well fed and well cared for and she would have had a deep interest in the work they were doing with Jesus.
Joanna was the wife of the very influential and certainly very well paid man named Chuza, who was in charge of all the financial affairs of Herod, Governor in Galilee. I am thinking about Joanna. She’s married to Chuza, who is the Chief Financial Officer for Herod. Herod is the man who ordered the execution of John the Baptist. I’m wondering if maybe she was even present at that lavish birthday party that Herod threw for himself when he called for John’s head to be paraded among the guests on a platter. How would that have felt for Joanna? Herod was also the man who tried Jesus in that hideous trumped up trial in the middle of the night and who mocked him and beat him and whipped him. I’m wondering if Joanna was there to see that happen to the man she honored and supported? However you look at it, she was a very brave woman who support Jesus as she did.
And here’s what else we know about these women as a group. Not only did they provide substantial funds for Jesus’ ministry. These women were there when the men abandoned him. The men, you remember, Peter and all the others ran away in Jesus’ last hours when the going got tough. Not that we blame them, of course. Their lives were in danger, and they were very well aware of that. Roman soldiers came to haul Jesus away to be tried and executed and they were very well aware that the same could happen to them. They knew they were next. So they ran and hid, and we don’t really blame them. But the women stuck by Jesus. They were the ones who surrounded his cross in the long hours that it took him to die, painfully. Some of them stood with Jesus’ mother Mary and his aunt beside the cross. They were the ones who positioned themselves right in his line of vision, right where he could see them and stayed there until the bitter end. They were the ones who snuck off and learned the place where he was buried, and then brought spices to his grave – as we today would bring flowers. Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and maybe others were at his grave early on Easter morning. They were the first to see Jesus alive again. The women were the ones who told the men that Jesus had risen. The men, you notice, thought they were talking crazy talk, and didn’t believe them until they saw it for themselves.
So I am glad and grateful that we know the names of some of the woman who supported Jesus in these very important ways.
AND I am looking today at people who prepare meals for others all the time. I am looking at people who go shopping and cook food and share it and bring casseroles. I’m thinking of those who prepare and serve our coffee hour and clean up the kitchen afterwards. I’m thinking of the women and the men also who served beautiful funeral meals recently as way of showing their love and support for grieving families. I’m looking at a large bunch of men who will be preparing and serving a lovely brunch soon for the women of this church. I’m looking today at a church full of people who give generously to Jesus through this church, and some of you, I know, take very good care of the money the rest of us give. A number of you have been teachers or are teachers and look to the good of your students whose lives are challenged. We heard a couple of weeks ago about one of us who brought our leftovers to provide good meals for hungry people in Grand Rapids and who volunteers there regularly. I’m thinking of a woman who has made the bread for our communion celebrations every month for years. I’m looking at a group of people who are deacons and who care tenderly and sometimes very quietly for those in this church who are ill or grieving or distressed in some way. I’m looking at a church full of people who get up in the morning and do the simplest jobs each day at their work and among their families and in this church. Sacred tasks. Holy endeavors – all of them.
And what makes them holy is not that they are so hard to do, most of them. Or so earthshaking. A great deal of what we do every day is pretty routine, frankly. What makes them holy is that we give the efforts of each day to God.
So here’s what that looks like. We wake up in the morning every day and we sit quietly in front of God in prayer and we consciously give the day to God. We list out for God what we plan to do that day, and then we say to God, “Take the events and efforts of this day – the most mundane and the most important – the planned and the unplanned - and use them for good in your world among the people you love.” Or maybe we sit at the end of the day and offer the day to God – praying through what we have done hour by hour and giving it all to God as the gift of a grateful son or daughter. Knowing that not all of it was perfect by any means, but knowing that God has a way of making it perfect and knowing that God is very pleased with our efforts.
What makes grocery shopping holy is that we do it in Jesus’ name for the people we love and for the people Jesus loves and because we have decided to be followers of Jesus. What makes cleaning up the kitchen holy is that we do it for God’s people and out of love for God. What makes putting a check in the collection plate a holy activity is that we do it in deep gratitude to God. What makes bringing a casserole sacred is that we do it in Jesus’ name and because it’s what he would have done. What makes hearing the hard stories of others a holy task is that we do it as Jesus would. And because we have decided to be followers of Jesus.
And in that way that surprises me every day, God takes the simple actions of our hands and feet and minds and voices and transforms them into offerings of great beauty.