Is Joanna the role model for the Western church?

Is Joanna the role model for the Western church?

From Sunday School onwards, in churches all over the world, a message is preached time and again: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others.” (1 Peter 4:10) Church chores are allocated according to talent: If you’re good at baking, work in the kitchen team; if you know how to play the guitar, join the worship team; if you have the gift of teaching, get behind the pulpit.

However, we usually apply this message only to our local church. What if we applied the message to the division of labour within the global church? We would then realize that there is one specific gift which is both very useful and very unequally distributed across the global family of faith. This gift is money. Most Western Christians have much easier access to financial resources than others (through high-paying jobs, inheritances, welfare state safety nets, etc.). For Western Christians, serving God with their specific gift amounts to serving God with the money that has landed in their hands.

For once, this means taking a parable literally. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the story of servants who are given a sum of money for productive use. The money is measured in the ancient currency of so-called talents. Talents have commonly been interpreted as a metaphor for skills. But how about taking the literal meaning of talent more seriously? How about seeing money as one key gift that we should use productively? After all, giving is mentioned as one of the various talents in 1 Cor 12 alongside prophecy, leadership, etc. (And note that these talents are described as gifts of grace: This should undermine any pride or ‘white saviour’ sentiment that might accompany giving, if such a sentiment has not already been undermined in the first place by the many injustices which contributed to the money landing in the West’s hands.)

We have great heroines to serve as role models for this. Joanna, Lydia and the Shunammite woman are biblical examples of whom we know little except that they took over the chore of providing material resources. Take Joanna. She came from a wealthy and influential background. We know close to nothing about her except for a concise description of her service: “Jesus went about through cities and villages, preaching and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God, and with him the twelve, and certain women [including Joanna] … who ministered to them from their possessions.” It’s as simple as that. They ministered from their possessions. I love how bluntly her part in bringing the good news is described. Many more Western Christians – in fact, many more rich Christians across the globe – could see themselves as “Joanna Christians”: their contribution to building the kingdom consists in ministering from their possessions.

Featured Image: Joanna, played by Farzana Dua Elahe in the Series A.D.: The Bible Continues.

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