Summary: Investigates some common misconceptions about Mary Magdalene. We can learn how to love Jesus from Mary’s persistence, sincerity, and enthusiasm.
Today is the day when we honor Mary Magdalene, dedicated follower of Jesus. Legends about Mary Magdalene abound. In fact, Mary Magdalene is probably most well-known for false details and unproven facts in her life. Often she is identified as a former prostitute, but there is nothing in the Bible that backs up this rumor. Frequently, people identify her with the sinful woman from the city that anointed Jesus’ feet with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair. But there are no clues in the Bible text to the identity of that woman, and no reason to believe that it might be Mary Magdalene. At times, Mary Magdalene has been confused with Mary of Bethany, Lazarus’ and Martha’s sister, but biblically Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene are two different people.
I went online and did a search for Mary Magdalene to see what legends and tall tales are circulating about her. One site gave me this history of Mary Magdalene: "Mary was 27 when she married Jesus. Mary had her first child at age 30, a girl who they named Tamar. At age 34 she gave birth to their second child, a son who they named Jesus. Mary gave birth to her third child "Joseph" who was the all important grail child. Mary was 41 years old when she had Joseph. Mary was Gnostic and Jesus respected her right to choose her own religion. Mary Magdalene died in A.D. 63 aged 60 years old. She died in southern France." [paralumun.org] This site suggests that the Roman Catholic Church has suppressed the true history of Mary Magdalene because she was too threatening.
Another site I visited laid out a scholarly argument that Mary Magdalene was the author of the Fourth Gospel, that we call the gospel of John, and that she was the "beloved disciple" described in that gospel. Although it was an interesting argument, and certainly had some compelling points, just seems too far out there. So besides learning that you can’t believe everything you read on the internet, what did I learn about Mary Magdalene?
Well, she wasn’t a prostitute, probably didn’t anoint Jesus’ feet, wasn’t married to Jesus, and didn’t write the Fourth Gospel, so what do we really know about Mary Magdalene? Very little of her life is known to us by the stories of the Bible. We simply don’t know a lot of the things that we wish we knew. 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 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. Mental illness? Physical illness? Sexual sin? We just don’t know. Mary was restored to health when she was freed and given new life in Jesus, but unfortunately we just don’t know what her old life looked like.
Mary Magdalene loved Jesus deeply - maybe more deeply than anyone else. She held an important place in his life and 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. Today’s gospel lesson centers on her experience at the tomb that first Easter morning. Though Mary Magdalene has been often misunderstood, she can teach us how to love Jesus completely. So what can we learn from Mary Magdalene’s devotion to Jesus?
First, we can learn persistence from Mary Magdalene. She was the first one to 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, thinking 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 apparent "scene of the crime". 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 too quickly. We pray a quick prayer asking God to help, and when we don’t hear a positive answer in a day or two, we wonder why God ignored our prayer. Or we ask God to intervene in a situation and then we solve the problem ourselves or take it into our own hands. We 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. Somehow she couldn’t believe it and wouldn’t leave him behind yet. Mary Magdalene was persistent.