Thursday, September 1, 2011

Life in the Fab Lane

Preface:  Because her husband had a powerful position in King Herod Antipas' domain, Joanna lived in palatial surroundings with wealth and prestige.  Machareus, the primary residence of Herod was perched on an isolated, breathtakingly-high desert hilltop. This impenetrable fortified palace was filled with towering marble pillars, massive open porches, elongated rooms and courtyards, ornate ceramic tile flooring, luxurious gardens, an amazing thermal bath-house and spectacular views of the Dead Sea.  In addition, when they were in Jerusalem, Herod Antipas and his family and chief assistants also resided in the majestic structure called the Citadel which was just as luxurious as Machareus.  It was an extravagant walled resort with intricate colorful frescoes and decorative vessels of silver and gold.

Coming from this fabulous lifestyle, we don't know how Joanna became such a devoted follower of Jesus.  We do know he miraculously healed her.  And there are enough similarities to suggest that her husband Chuza was the same royal official who traveled to Cana to find Jesus, begging him to heal his dying son whom healed from a distance early in his ministry.   As a result this nobleman and all his household became believers (Jn 4:46-54).  Joanna's generosity with her assets provided a substantial income source for Jesus.

Joanna tells her fascinating story:

"So many people think having money and prestige is all they need to be happy.  In the beginning, my husband Chuza and I were completely infatuated with all that had been made available to us.  Chuza managed the vast personal estates of King Herod Antipas, a position of distinction and power.  And the unique experience of being associated with Herod's court and of living in a plush environment had it's moments to be sure.  But we quickly learned our luxurious and important post could also be threatening to our well being. There were powerful undercurrents of intrigue and suspicion fueled by unbridled jealousy and cruel ambition that swirled continuously throughout the palace.  It did not take long for us to figure out how to navigate our dangerous environment.

"A chilling example was the murder of  John the Baptist.  Initially, Herod had a measure of respect for John, regarding him as a holy man.  He had actually paid attention to John's teachings until John told him it was not lawful for him to be married to Herodias, his current wife.  Herod had scandalously dismissed his first wife, a princess from the neighboring nation, then stole his brother's wife--yes, he married his sister-in-law.  And on top of that, Herodias was also his niece.  Angered by John's proclamation, Herod threw John in prison, but had no real intention of killing him.

"John's admonishment to Herod infuriated Herodias even more.  She had finally gotten the celebrity and eminence she so coveted by marrying Herod and she was not about to let some provincial teacher get in her way.  She began to plot John the Baptist's murder.  Eventually, her evil plan unfolded as she cleverly arranged for her sensuous daughter, Salome, to dance before Herod and all his nobles.  Smitten by her performance, Herod foolishly agreed to give his step-daughter anything she desired.  So Herodias instructed Salome to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter.  Trapped by his own rash promise and wanting to save face before his dinner guests, Herod felt he had no choice but to agree to the grotesque demand.

"Living in this upscale and privileged setting left us feeling unnerved and anxious much of the time,  but it finally began to make sense when we encountered the great merciful teacher, Jesus.   Our influence and financial benefits allowed us to help further his mission of freeing the oppressed, healing the sick and bringing hope to a captive, impoverished people.  My son and I were recipients of miraculous healings by the benevolent rabbi.  Our family was filled with gratitude and our hearts were turned to him.

"As often as I could, I followed Jesus as he traveled through the cities and villages of Galilee.  Those of us who served with him came from many contrasting backgrounds.  It took awhile for some of his companions who had been less fortunate in life to accept me, considering my upper class standing among the elite.  But they soon saw my heart, filled with sincere dedication to Jesus and his cause, particularly when Chuza's well-paid position enabled me to help financially support Jesus and those who assisted him.

"As Jesus' ministry suddenly came to an untimely end, I helplessly witnessed his agony on the cross.  And when I later learned how Herod and his soldiers had ridiculed Jesus prior to the crucifixion, I was even more heartbroken, because I knew these men.  When Herod first heard of Jesus and his miracles, he feared he was John the Baptist who had come back from the dead.  But with time, he realized this was not so and had been elated when he heard Pilate was sending the arrested Jesus to him to help determine his fate.  He had been fascinated by Jesus' supernatural powers and determined to witness a miracle firsthand.  He eagerly began to question Jesus, but Jesus did not answer a word.  Herod, not one to be ignored, became increasingly irritated.  In the end, he and his soldiers began insulting Jesus, scoffing and making fun as they draped a brilliant,  kingly robe on him before returning him to Pilate for crucifixion.

"When the cruel execution was over, Jesus was hastily placed in a sepulcher.  Some of the other women and I arrived later to prepare his remains for burial.  We expected to find his mutilated body, but discovered an empty tomb and two dazzling angels who asked why we sought the living among the dead!  Our sorrow immediately turned to rejoicing when we grasped that he was alive!

"Though now over, my sometimes fabulous, sometimes frightening sojourn in the palace provided a unprecedented opportunity to bear testimony of the love and grace of our Lord.   Herod's own foster-brother and close companion, Manaen, later became a prominent believer.  An amazing adventure in an entitled and indulged, but dangerous world!"

Luke 8:1-3; 23:8-12; 24:1-12; Mark 6:14-32; Acts 13:1
Joyce Catherwood (c) 2011

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