If you have read any of my previous ramblings about the book of John, you may have picked up on how much I LOVE this book of the Bible. Every time I read it, I love Jesus a little more. Each story makes me think, “WOW! He was so cool. I wish people knew this Jesus.”
The final chapter ties it all together for me because it features the very unlikely character, Mary Magdalene.
(For some reason, I can relate most clearly to the woman that is always seen as at least a little off and at worst, a prostitute that could never repent enough for her mistakes!)
In ancient times, women were not respected. Most cultures valued them only for their ability to have babies (preferably man child…) and cook and clean. They were seldom educated and not considered reliable witnesses for anything.
Mary Magdalene first enters the Jesus narrative as a woman with 7 demons. Which is a topic I could write a book or two on, but for today’s blog post, I will suffice it to say: she was the town crazy lady. The Bible doesn’t give us any clue as to what she was like prior to meeting Jesus and being cured. We just know she was “the lady with seven demons”. Then she became the lady that followed Jesus and took care of him. She was also the leader of the other women that followed Jesus. (Go Mary!)
Interestingly enough, tradition teaches that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, though there is no real evidence for this. Many people even suggest that she had romantic feelings towards Jesus (as portrayed in Jesus Christ Superstar). All of these stories about Mary and her reputation and inappropriate thoughts about Jesus come from an underlying judgment that still exists towards women and more specifically, SEX!!! Mainly, it seems that people have a hard time accepting that Mary was ever anything more than a prostitute who was tolerated by Jesus because he was so gracious.
This attitude is frankly insulting to the true story of Mary. She followed Jesus and helped him. She was known to have been a leader among the other women who followed Jesus. And her part in the narrative of John is nothing short of heroic. We know from Matthew’s account, that she stayed close by throughout the trial, suffering, and crucifixion (unlike the MEN who we have no problem recognizing as heroic). And in chapter 20, she went to the tomb while it was still dark. She kept believing and waiting while everyone else turned away.
How people imagine the missing details of Mary’s story completely reveals how much they believe in God’s ability to redeem the mess she was in before she followed Jesus. I happen to believe that he was able to completely redeem all of whatever the crazy was that she had going on with her seven demons. I believe that she became a great leader among the women. I believe that she was a faithful companion and support to Jesus and there was nothing sexual or awkward about it. I believe this because all of the evidence shows that Jesus valued her as a worthy human being. He looked past the crazy and mess that everyone else saw and he valued her for who she was created to be. He taught her in a time when no one considered women worth teaching.
It is no wonder to me that Mary didn’t desert Jesus through any of this. She was the first one to the tomb. She discovered that it was empty. She reported the empty tomb to Peter and John. They came and checked it out and left. But Mary stayed. She had nowhere else to go. She couldn’t return to her pre-Jesus life. So she stayed, clinging to the hope that what Jesus had seen in her was somehow still true…
This knowledge makes the following passage one of the most beautiful in scripture:
But Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. As she wept, she knelt to look into the tomb and saw two angels sitting there, dressed in white, one at the head, the other at the foot of where Jesus’ body had been laid. They said to her, “Woman, why do you weep?”
“They took my Master,” she said, “and I don’t know where they put him.” After she said this, she turned away and saw Jesus standing there. But she didn’t recognize him.
Jesus spoke to her, “Woman, why do you weep? Who are you looking for?”
She, thinking that he was the gardener, said, “Mister, if you took him, tell me where you put him so I can care for him.”
Jesus said, “Mary.”Turning to face him, she said in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” meaning “Teacher!”
Jesus said, “Don’t cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I ascend to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene went, telling the news to the disciples: “I saw the Master!” And she told them everything he said to her.
Jesus first appearance after his resurrection was to Mary! Yeah, Mary, that woman who had previously been known as “Mary the woman with 7 demons” and who church tradition would demote to just a prostitute (research Mary Magdalene houses). Jesus chose her to be the first to appear to. He chose the most unlikely person on the planet to be his first witness. Man! He’s cool!!!
That is why Mary clung to him. She had no hope without him. The fact that she called him teacher brings tears to my eyes. In Western society where education is a right, we don’t understand the significance. For Mary, education was a privilege that society considered her unworthy of, but Jesus valued her and TAUGHT her.
Jesus is just so awesome! He didn’t care about societal norms and impressing people. He knew people would twist the story. He knew snobs would laugh at Christians believing the wild story of a crazy woman, but he valued Mary enough to choose her anyway!
I hope that I can learn to see people that way. I hope that I can look through the mess and see what God sees: inherent value worth dying for and worth investing in! Because the resurrection is for all of us, especially the least likely of us!
I am a really strange mix of a hippie, Calypso, Southern Belle, Madea- wannabe, Christian with the attitude of a Rhode Islander! I’m fascinated with people’s stories, I love to laugh at life with people and I’m genuinely trying to follow Jesus’ teachings. Strangely, my search for truth often has me at odds with American Christians who believe themselves to be the guardians of this truth. I was kicked out of Sunday School as a child for asking too many questions. I learned to repress them but my questions never went away. Thankfully as an adult, I feel completely free to pursue answers. Turns out, God is pretty big and not nearly as upset with my questions as his followers tend to be!
In John 15:18-20, Jesus says, “if you belonged to the world, it would…