Mary Magdalene, the Woman
All four gospels mention Mary Magdalene and the early church named her “The Apostle to the Apostles”.
In the 8th chapter of John’s gospel , John tells of a woman caught in adultery and about to be stoned. This has led some to believe Mary Magdalene is that woman.
Not so! But what that Gospel brings us to is a compelling look into the midst of the age in which we now live; how the Christian faith and life witness the ministries of the divorced, of women, gay men and lesbian women. How the church looks at standards set for exemplary humans who in reality do not exist. There have been judgments, judgments which would exclude Mary Magdalene from the apostolic order to which she rightfully belongs. The gospel of John 20:11-18 presents a different picture, a different woman. Mary of Magdala. Who is this woman? What was her life? Let’s take a look.
Her widowed father; who had found her a good husband, died after a long life. She had mourned him, but with little sense of loss, for they had never been close. She had been his only heir and found, to her surprise, that she was now wealthy. Then her husband, a wealthy widower nearer her father’s age than her own, also died. He had been kind to her and they were good companions but he had never engaged her heart, so she felt her loss as a gentle regret rather than a heart-tearing grief. They had had no children and the rest of his family had died before him so she was, again the only heir. That left her very rich indeed, and independent, in full control of her fortune and her destiny.
What an interesting and intriguing situation. She became the envy of other women while at the same time she felt they were the ones with lives full to overflowing with people, responsibilities and meaningful things to do. There was nothing that she absolutely had to do and there was not a single soul who really depended on her just to BE!!
She seemed to herself to be living in a thick, clammy fog that kept her from touching or being touched by anyone or even feeling anything. That was the start. There were symptoms of illness that had no cause any doctor could find – headaches, miseries of the stomach, sudden lancing pains in every muscle. Even her skin seemed to hurt and there was the sudden breathlessness when her heart would pound much too fast. And under it all waking or sleeping was a sense of hopelessness, helplessness, utter aloneness. Her disordered spirit seemed to have ALWAYS been this way.
This was when she came across the Master. His voice as He was preaching was background for her thoughts and suddenly she had come to a dead halt, turned toward him and listened. His words cut through the thick fog she had been living in. She found herself pressing forward toward the center of the crowd to where He was. She said nothing, her need crying out through the silence.
He spoke seven times not to her but to each of the forces that held her captive. He spoke with such authority that each of the seven was torn out by the roots, dismissed forever. SHE WAS WHOLE! SHE WAS HERSELF AGAIN!
In the book of Judith: Judith “undertook her mission with a prayer that acknowledged God relies not upon the power of numbers nor upon the strength of men, but upon the lowly, the oppressed, the forlorn and those so devoid of hope as to need a savior even to draw a breath”. Perhaps an early look at Mary of Magdala?
In the Garden after the resurrection, Jesus identifies himself, calling her by name as if to jog her recognition. This Jesus is the new Adam who offered the gift of knowledge, entrusting her with the news of resurrection. It was she who would go to the others and share the first witness of the gospel as a sign of the new world order – a reversal that rendered a woman the first apostle, the first post-resurrection witness, the one who would set all others in motion. The Rev. Dr. Sam Portaro identifies Mary Magdalene “as much as Jesus himself, an incarnation of resurrection life”.
We each have the gift of Mary Magdalene which is for us to be in the places where others will not go. What brought Mary to the garden and compelled her to find the others who in fear and hiding were waiting for some hope to guide them? Perhaps it was a new confidence, or a determination, not just grim but graceful; or courage, not fearless but faithful. Perhaps there was a new sense of herself, not meek but mature. I do not wonder about these things. I wonder at them. I discern the qualities and characteristics that distinguish a truly resurrected life not only during the life of Mary Magdalene but also in the midst of our own tumultuous times.
Consider this poem from Soul Sisters by Edwina Gateley:
Ah, Mary of Magdala
They did not tell us your story,
It was lost, buried deep.
your spirit was battered – in a society which had no place for you.
Was your sickness then – a soul sickness, sister?
The man Jesus recognized you as his own –
raising you up into fullness,
calling forth your powerfulness presence.
Friend, Companion, Apostle – ONE WHO IS LOVED.
“Go to My brothers. Tell them for Me, I am going to My Father and your Father, My God and your God”. He did not add “will you do that for me? He did not have to. What is He telling you?
Many of us cannot physically go to those in need. We can and must recognize the dignity of each other. We can see and must respect the Divine in each other especially those in need physically, emotionally and spiritually. They are all around us, in the very midst of every day.