An unspecified time has intervened, but presumably not long after the meal at Simon’s house Jesus sets out once again throughout the Galilee region “preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God” (8:1). Evidently his retinue of followers is increasing. Luke specifies “the twelve” but now adds that there are “certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities” with him (8:2), among whom Luke names three of the more prominent figures.
The first of these is Mary Magdalene, “out of whom went seven devils” (KJV). Bede and Gregory the Great, among others who identify Magdalene with the weeping penitent of Luke 7, suggest that the “seven devils” may be understood as a reference to seven vices (Bede, Homilies on the Gospels 2.4) or to a universal proclivity to a life of vice (Gregory the Great, Homily on the Gospels 33). Luke’s text itself, however, suggests in the episode of the Gadarene swine that ensues that something more dramatic, however unspecified in his narrative, may have been involved.
In any case, Luke is here naming a woman whose repentance and spiritual transformation were especially noteworthy and whose utter faithfulness to Jesus would see her both among the few remaining at the cross itself and, after Jesus’s resurrection, as the one to whom first he would appear, in an episode recorded only in John’s Gospel. Magdalene clearly occupies a place of respect among the disciples.
About Chuza, the steward of Herod, we know little; that his wife, Joanna, should have left the court precincts to follow Jesus indicates that she also may have had “substance” at her disposal with which to provision the Twelve and Jesus. She seems to have become a friend of Mary Magdalene, and she is later named with Mary Magdalene and the other women who returned from the open tomb to inform the disciples (Luke 24:10).
Susanna appears by name only here.
All of these women “ministered” (diakoneō) to Jesus “from their substance” (KJV). The phrase here can mean simply “to wait on tables,” but clearly this is insufficient to explain the role of these women. Though they may have provisioned the group with food, the itinerary does not well support the imagination of cooking and serving at tables; “from their substance” sounds much more like their having had sufficient money to buy food and periodically, perhaps, to rent lodgings.
This is one of several moments in Luke’s narrative in which he reminds us of the mendicant poverty of Christ and the Twelve; Henry comments aptly when he remembers in this context another text: “‘Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor,’ and lived on alms” (1728: 657).
To see women in such a group of disciples may have perhaps have aroused curiosity in itself; Jewish culture normatively restricted women’s privileges even to speak in public social gatherings, and a woman could not so much as enter a synagogue or pray the Shema. Jesus is different.
Accordingly, women play an important part in Luke’s narratives. Here is a visible sign that Jesus is creating a holistic representation of membership in the kingdom, showing it to be a real koinōnia. All of these people, men and women together, were being trained by example to become productive members of the body of Christ, even as they, though in a material sense poor, were being exposed to the riches of Jesus’s pedagogy.
It is clear that here, as in Luke 6 at the choosing of the disciples, Luke shows us that Jesus has been consciously building up a community of complementarity in roles and gifts, endowing them with instruction and good purpose so that they could become the church.