Facts and Myths: The Life of Mary Magdalene ~ The Very Rev. Lady Sherwood, OPI

Reading 1: SGS 3:1-4B OR  2 COR 5:14-17

Responsorial Psalm: PS 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9

Gospel: JN 20:1-2, 11-18

Liturgical colour: White.

Today is the day when we honour the Feast day of Mary Magdalene, who was a very dedicated follower of Jesus. There are many Legends around about the life of Mary Magdalene. In fact, Mary Magdalene is probably most well-known for false details and unproven facts in her life.  Mary is often identified as a former prostitute, but there is no evidence in the Bible that substantiates this. Too often, people identify her with being the sinful woman from the city that anointed Jesus’ feet with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair. But there are is no Biblical evidence in the Holy text as to the actual identity of that woman, and as such, there is no true reason to believe that it might be Mary Magdalene. Sometimes, Mary Magdalene has been confused with Mary of Bethany, Lazarus’ and Martha’s sister, but biblical evidence has Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene as two totally different people. There are also some biblically unsubstantiated myths of Mary Magdalene being married married to our Lord Jesus that are spread around. I have also seen on some church websites, that Mary Magdalene was thought to be the author of the Fourth Gospel, that we call the gospel of John, and that she was actually the “beloved disciple” described in that gospel, but yet again, true biblical text accounts certainly do not support this stance. So besides learning that we can’t believe everything which we may read on the internet, what can we learn about Mary Magdalene?

Well, she wasn’t a prostitute, highly likely she didn’t anoint Jesus’ feet,  she wasn’t married to Jesus, and she didn’t write the Fourth Gospel, so what do we really know about the Truth of the life of Mary Magdalene? Very little of her life is known to us by the texts of the Bible.  We can assume that her name “Magdalene” refers to Magdala, a town near Tiberias (in present day Israel), where she must have lived or grown up, but we don’t even know that for certain.

The most personal story about Mary Magdalene from the Bible is from Luke chapter 8. Mary Magdalene is identified in a list of women who provided for Jesus and the disciples out of their own resources. Mary Magdalene was freed from seven demons (accdg to the text), but it is not clear exactly what kind of bondage she was freed from. It could’ve been from anything. Mental illness? Physical illness? Other sin? We just don’t truthfully know. What we do know, was that Mary was restored to health when she was freed and given new life in Jesus.

Mary Magdalene loved Jesus very deeply –  possibly even maybe more deeply than anyone else. She held a very important place in both his life and his ministry – she was present both at Jesus’ crucifixion and at his burial. She was one of the devoted women who came early in the morning to the empty tomb that first Easter Sunday morning. Mary Magdalene was the first one to actually see the resurrected Jesus, according to John, and the one who ran to tell the others.   Mary Magdalene can teach us how to love Jesus completely by her example. So what can we learn from Mary Magdalene’s devotion to Jesus?

Firstly, we can learn persistence from Mary. She was the first one to be at the tomb that morning. For three days after burial, the custom was to visit the tomb of a loved one. When Mary arrived at Jesus’ tomb, she was stunned. The huge rock, which was supposed to seal the tomb, was gone. Immediately, she went to go get help, as she believed that the body had been stolen. After the disciples came and saw it for themselves, they went back home. Only Mary Magdalene remained at the tomb, not wanting to leave the tomb. Somehow, she could not give up. She didn’t expect to see Jesus, but this persistent woman couldn’t pull herself away either.

Sometimes we give up on God far too easily. We pray a quick prayer asking God to help, and when we don’t hear a positive answer in our own timing, we wonder why God had ignored our prayer. Or we may ask God to intervene in a situation and then we solve the problem ourselves or take it into our own hands. We can tend to move on too quickly when there’s no immediate action. Mary Magdalene persisted. She waited. She didn’t let outward appearances deter her from what she was seeking. She wanted to see Jesus even though it looked impossible, so she stayed. Mary Magdalene was persistent.

The Second thing we can learn from Mary Magdalene is Sincerity. Mary did not put on false airs and graces or act her way through this situation. We can see Mary’s heart all the way through in her actions. When a man who she assumed to be the gardener asked what she was looking for, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” This woman sincerely believes that she can carry Jesus’ adult male body back to the tomb. She knows that if she found his body, she would find the strength to carry him back to his tomb, no matter how impossible it seemed. Mary Magdalene was totally sincere when she offered to carry Jesus’ body back to the tomb where it belonged.

At times, we as Christians tend to put on a good show. When someone dies, we want everything to look good, so we cover up our true feelings. Rather than admitting that this is tragic and nobody can understand it, we parade around patronizing platitudes: “I guess God missed her too much,” or “She’s in a better place now,” or “Everything happens for a reason.” Instead of acknowledging the senselessness of some loss, we try to give answers that we have no business giving. Mary Magdalene did not hide how she felt. She did not give explanations that she couldn’t know. She just opened her heart and said what she felt. Mary single-heartedly sought the return of the body of Jesus whom she loved. Mary Magdalene was sincere.

Thirdly, we can learn enthusiasm from Mary Magdalene. Once she realized to whom she was speaking, once she recognised the gardener as her precious teacher (“Rabboni”), once Jesus told her to go share the news of his resurrection, nothing could stop her from telling others. Bernard of Clairvaux called Mary Magdalene the “Apostle to the Apostles”, because of her role in telling Jesus’ disciples about the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene brought the news to the disciples: “You’ll never believe it, but I have seen the Lord!” Then she told them what she had seen and experienced. She was the only one who stayed at the tomb, and she was the only one who saw Jesus. But Mary was so excited she could not keep her enthusiasm to herself. She was bursting at the seams to share the best news she had ever heard. Mary was enthusiastic.

Mary Magdalene holds a very unique place in the history of  Our Lord Jesus. She was the first one to find the empty tomb on Easter and the only one, in the gospel of John, to meet Jesus face to face. We can learn a lot from her, but especially, we can learn from her persistence in waiting for Jesus, her sincerity in searching for Jesus, and her enthusiasm in telling others about the good  news of Jesus. Her witness to us is inspiring. Though she’s got with some people a bad reputation through evidenceless myths throughout the years, Mary Magdalene has a lot to teach us about how we are deeply to love Jesus, to wait on Jesus timing persistently, and to search for Jesus in our hearts sincerely. We ought to Enthusiastically tell others about our dear Lord and Saviour, Jesus. And our devotion to Jesus should shine forth in the world in everything we do and say.

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