I have always found Mary Magdalene fascinating. She pops up in the gospels a lot, and yet very often seems to have been generally downplayed in importance by the church.
Mary has become controversial at times. Her presence in the apostle’s witness to Jesus stirs up the controversy on the Ordination of Women and forces us to consider the place of women in the church and in its mission and ministry. For some this is challenging.
There are fanciful tales about Mary Magdalene. Movies that have never let the truth get in the way of a good story spin these fantasies! EG. Dan Browne’s, The DaVinci Code and etc…..
Why remember her among the number of people we remember in the Church’s worship cycle? Why remember any of the people in Scripture, especially the New Testament people of faith in the Resurrection of Jesus?
Because as we remember them, we find ourselves celebrating Jesus’ transforming love in us; his victory over death and darkness in real people’s lives who have inspired their own and succeeding generations.
So we remember Mary, and as a result we know Jesus’ inspiration to live with hope and love on our journey to the final Resurrection.
Who was Mary?
“Mary”: Which one? There are so many ‘Mary’s’ in the Gospels! The Aramaic name Maryam (Miriam in Hebrew) was popular at the time. Being named after Moses’ sister was auspicious. Maryam in Aramaic became Maria in the Greek language Gospels; just a short step to ‘Mary’ in English.
To distinguish people with the same name, where they came from was a reference point to which people often referred. EG. Jesus (another popular name) was known as ‘Jesus – of Nazareth”.
We hear of several Mary’s. We have, of course, Mary, Jesus’ mum, Mary of Bethany (Martha’s sister) and Mary of Magdala — or Mary Magdalene.
Was Mary Magdalene a ‘woman of ill-repute’, a prostitute? We don’t know. But over the years this has been assumed. When Jesus said that prostitutes had a better chance of entering God’s Kingdom than his Jewish religious opponents (Matthew 21:31), some people came to the conclusion that Mary Magdalene fit the category.
Many have identified the ‘woman who had lived a sinful life’ with the alabaster perfume washing Jesus’ feet in Luke 7: 36-38, as Mary Magdalene. But we actually don’t know if that was Mary Magdalene.
We do know that Mary was a Jewish woman from the fishing town Magdala, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Both Mark and Luke record the healing of demons from Mary’s life.
Mary Magdalene is the only person in the Gospels named as being exorcized by Jesus. She was freed of seven demons (Luke 8:2).
It seems accurate to conclude that Mary must have suffered from severe emotional or psychological trauma to deem an exorcism necessary. She was battered and bruised, injured and in agony from the suffering demon possession entailed.
Mary must have lost all control of her life, and with it, her dignity in her community. Someone said, “Seven is a mystic number suggesting ‘completeness,’ implying that when the evil spirits dominated Mary the suffering was extremely severe.” (Maurice Casey, Jesus of Nazareth)
What must that moment been like when Jesus spoke her into freedom and healing?! He truly saw her in all her bruised body and heart and spoke his healing promises to her.
With a word he sent that demonic oppression packing and gave Mary a whole new life to live when her life was likely to be agonizing suffering and early death. Grace turned her life around. Has grace turned your life around lately?
Mary then is repeatedly named in the gospels. Obviously, her encounter with the Saviour of the world changed her world! Mary is mentioned 12 times in the Gospels, more than most of the apostles.
In the series some of us are viewing called, ‘The Chosen’, the show’s creators show Mary to be very much a part of the travelling group around Jesus. Many think that is accurate. It must because she is named so often! Mary is part of that inner circle.
That is what happens to people when they encounter the living Jesus. They are changed and their life is lived close to him and his words of life.
What Mary Magdalene is universally known and honoured for is of course being the first one – the first one to see and hear the risen Messiah that early morning in the garden tomb.
She was the first human being to witness the new creation of God alive from the dark deadness of the old creation.
Mary was the first to be confronted with all the promise of God to save his people, heal the world, create a new heaven and earth for all of us. She got the first glimpse of our future in God’s new life where we now live and enjoy in part but will one day come in full when Jesus appears for all to see, and the living and the dead ware raised when all is complete and full.
What a moment that must have been! From all hopes dashed and the old sinister creeping fear of a return to those dark old days of pain now Jesus is dead –to leaping joy – everything he said now is. Mary is still free and will be until the last. So are you, friend!
No doubt once the overwhelming joy and surprise of the moment faded, Mary, like any person of living faith relationship with this risen Jesus went on and lived with the ramifications of this huge change.
She must have been able to say, like I can say:
“I have a new hope in any despair.
I have a joy in and grief.
I have a future when it feels like it is the end.
I have a community to which I belong when I feel all alone.
I have a purpose because God has a plan.
I have meaning in my work and marriage and relationships when it seems that I am drifting aimlessly nowhere”.
Mary famously hears the angels say, “He is raised, he is not here” (Mark 16:6).
Friend, the angels still say, “He is raised he is not in some dead, dark corner of the world or some dark deep outer space far away and irrelevant or uninvolved with you or this planet with all its issues. He is raised right in the middle of all the deadness and darkness you may know”.
That is Mary’s gift to us – resurrection good news; future in Jesus, good news, reason to live and work and give and love for today – in the good news.
If a person who is completely lost to the overwhelming control of evil and darkness can be set free and flourish in a life of love with Jesus the Saviour, the so can I. That is what Mary says to me.
Mary’s three gifts are yours. Her gifts are;
- Freedom from all evil and darkness
- Vision of a whole new life to be lived, and
- Hope for us on the journey
- Freedom: You have been buried and resurrected with Jesus in your baptism where all demonic powers have been undone. That is your freedom. You are no slave to fear.
- Vision: You have new vision of life with which to fdo more than cope with all that comes your way because Jesus’ resurrection is the way ahead. His hope sustained Mary for a lifetime, we assume.
- Hope: You have hope now that the Lord Jesus can deal with your worst and recreate you your best as he did for Mary.
For the gifts you have, the life you have received and the hope you live in, cry out to Jesus today, “Rabboni” – My Teacher”.
He will say, “Don’t hold on to the old things that you know well. Instead go. Go with the new into the new. Go and tell them…”.
Tell them, “Jesus rules! Jesus rules in grace”.
Jesus of Nazareth is good news for Mary of Magdala and you of your place!