Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Three Marys, No Four, Mary Magdalene

When I think of Mary Magdalene I think of a person who went from shame to honor.  The gospels tell about a woman from a good family in the town of Magdala who was possessed by seven demons.  Seven is the number of completeness so we could say she was completely possessed.  And to be possessed not only was shameful but brought shame to her family.  But Jesus delivered her fully and completely.  Mary became a follower of Jesus traveling with him as he went about the country.  (Luke 8)

When we think of following Jesus in the 21 century as women we do not fully grasp the implications of what following Jesus meant in the 1st century.  In the first century women did not leave their homes and travel without their husband or father or another family member.  To follow Jesus around the countryside would mean Mary was somehow suspected of impropriety or worse dishonor.  We find Mary of Magdalene as a disciple, one of the Jesus band, one exposed to the person, the way and message of Jesus.  Mary (who perhaps was cast out of her family as one possessed) was one of the first to become a part of the new kinship group/family that was created around Jesus.  Her life had been transformed and healed and she became a passionate follower and participant in the ministry of Jesus.

Next we find Mary at the cross with Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary the wife of Clopas.  She was present during the most harrowing moment of Jesus life, the crucifixion.   Did she flinch when the nails were pounded in to his hands and feet?  What did she feel as the sky went dark and the ground began to shake?  What did she hear when Jesus cried out?  What did she come to know as she watched the Son of God die.  She was witness to the last words of Jesus and to the events playing out near the foot of the cross.  (John 19)

And Mary was first at the tomb.  She was the first to notice the stone had been rolled away.  And she was the first to see the risen Christ.  Mary was the first one commissioned to tell of Christ's resurrection, the first apostolic witness that Jesus was alive--by Jesus himself.  (John 20)  (Mark 16)

My favorite part of the story was when Mary thought Jesus was the gardener and he called her name, "Mary."  She immediately recognized her teacher when she heard the sound of his voice.   And he sent her to tell the disciples that he had risen from the dead.  The significance of sending... the meaning of the word, apostle is "the one who is sent."  Mary Magdalene, follower and disciple of Jesus, witness of Christ's death and the first to meet the risen Lord becomes the first one sent out to tell the good news.

The funny thing about being a witness in the first century was that a woman's testimony only counted about half as much as a man's because women were considered unreliable. (first century gas lighting for psychology buffs).  But God considered the testimony of a woman to be valid and reliable in spite of what people of the day thought.

Something new is happening.  God chooses a formerly possessed woman to become the first spokesperson in his new kingdom.  How's that for a reliable, rational testimony!  but wait... it is reliable.  Mary experienced freedom from oppression at the hand of Jesus.  Mary listened to his teachings and was present as he healed and delivered others.  Mary saw him die.  Mary saw him moments after his resurrection.  She had experienced the life and work of the living Messiah and became a most accurate witness to the reality of Christ and his kingdom.

I can't imagine that anyone silenced Mary after what she had seen, heard and witnessed.  Her story was vital to the early church and I believe that she shared that story wherever she went.  Many ancient artists have shown Mary preaching not just to the disciples but to mixed groups of people.

I love her story because I see in it a call for women also to become disciples and preachers of the good news.  Our voices matter in God's economy even if they do not matter in this present society or religious system.

How is God inviting you to tell you story today?  What have you seen?  What have you heard?  What do you know?  Your voice matters--your life matters in the sight of God.  Mary, the shamed woman became highly honored as the first Apostle sent to tell the good news.

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