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Apostle to the Apostles: Mary Magdalene’s Story

August 31, 2019

Life’s journeys can be interesting. We took a hike a couple of weeks ago from Bear Lake to Lake Helene, Lake Odessa, Fern Lake, and Cub Lake. It was longer and more difficult than we anticipated. But the stops along the way like this one made it all worth while. This makes me think of the journey of Mary Magdalene both in her life and in the centuries to follow.

As I sat with Mary Magdalene this week, I have been amazed at her tenacious spirit and appalled at the slander thrown at her by the early church which has only recently began to be rectified. I was a part of that ignorance for many years with the image of Yvonne Elliman who played Mary Magdalene in Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar.

It didn’t take too long for the men in charge in the early church to be threatened by Mary Magdalene. Pope Gregory the First was the one to truly “codify” the corrupt identification of Mary Magdalene when he conducted some pretty crappy exegesis and biblical study.

You see, the early churchmen (yes, men) began to combine the stories of the woman caught in adultery, the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’s feet (and wiped them with her hair), Mary of Bethany (Lazarus & Martha’s sister), and Mary Magdalene whom Luke describes as having seven demons cast out of her by Jesus. They just couldn’t believe that this woman was such a powerful supporter of Jesus and the Disciples/Apostles. There was even a Gospel of Mary which was roundly condemned along with many other gospels purportedly written by the Apostles.

So who was Mary Magdalene and why was she such a threat to the early church? From the Gospel accounts we learn that she indeed did have seven demons cast out by Jesus. However, the interpretation of demons back then was far different from the demons of movies such as The Exorcist.

Whatever cure Jesus offered to her not only healed her; she decided to leave her town of Magdala and be one of his supporters. In Luke’s Gospel, we read how Mary, along with several other women, provided for Jesus and the disciples out of their own resources. They weren’t simply camp followers, they were women of power, influence, and financial resources. Out of Magdala came a successful women of means who was one of the key supporters of the disciples and Jesus.

Financial support wasn’t the only way they supported Jesus. When Jesus was arrested, the disciples abandoned him. Even Peter denied knowing Jesus. Who was there at the foot of the cross? The women along with the beloved disciple. On the first day of the week at sunrise, who was it who went to the tomb? The women went to the tomb. Even when the men decided that the tomb was empty and left, it was Mary Magdalene (in John’s Gospel) who stayed behind. Mary is the one specifically mentioned by name in all four Gospels as a witness to the resurrection. It is John’s account which is the most touching to me.

Mary Magdalene stayed behind as the others left the tomb. Where had they taken the body of her Rabbi and Lord! With tears streaming down her face, she encounters a man whom she thinks is the gardener. When he speaks her name, Mary Magdalene immediately recognizes her Rabbi and Lord! What happens next is incredible. She was given the charge to share the Good News of Jesus’s resurrection with the others! She was, in a real sense, the first evangelist following the resurrection. And her role would continue following the resurrection and the spread of the Gospel to the known world.

Only in recent years has Mary Magdalene had her good name and honor restored. It wasn’t until 1933 that she was essentially restored and canonized by Pope Pius XI.

As I sat with her this week, I learned a lot about character-assassination and strength. She persevered with the Apostles and she persevered through the ages. It is as if she was degraded by the men in charge in the church in much the same way as Bathsheba. Rightfully restored, this tenacious and loyal follower of Christ can teach us a lot about faith and life… if we would only but listen.

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