22 July. St Mary Magdalene

1st Reading: 2 Cor 5:14-17 (alternative: Song 3:1-4)

A life built on and sustained by the love of God

The love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

Song of Songs 3:1-4

The soul’s intense longing for God

Upon my bed at night
I sought him whom my soul loves;
I sought him, but found him not;
I called him, but he gave no answer.

I will rise now and go about the city,
in the streets and in the squares;
I will seek him whom my soul loves.
I sought him, but found him not.

The sentinels found me, as they went about in the city.
“Have you seen him whom my soul loves?”
Scarcely had I passed them,
when I found him whom my soul loves.
I held him, and would not let him go
until I brought him into my mother’s house,
and into the chamber of her that conceived me.

Gospel: John 20:1-2; 11-21

Mary recognises the risen Christ, at the empty tomb

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

Later, Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord;” and she told them that he had said these things to her.


A woman to admire

In recent years St Mary Magdalene has become the best known celebrity of the early church, in the popular mind. Even before Dan Brown’s sensationalism in The Da Vinci Code she was one around whom apocryphal myths and legends gathered: that she was descended from a noble family, that she married Jesus and had his child, that she was a high priestess in a Roman temple at Magdala, that after the resurrection she went to France, or to Ephesus with Mary the mother of Jesus. Not all of these can be true, and probably none of them is factual. So what do we know of the real Mary Magdalene?

The Gospel calls her “Mary who is named Magdalene,” meaning that she came from Magdala, a small town near Tiberias on the western shore of lake Galilee. We don’t know anything about her family background, but if she was one of the women who travelled with Jesus and supported him financially (Lk 8:2), she must have had some independent income. According to both Mark and Luke, Mary had had seven demons driven out of her by Jesus. She was present at his crucifixion and burial and of course, as in today’s Gospel, his resurrection. Several key items from the popular image of Mary Magdalene are missing from the summary above. Wasn’t she the woman caught in adultery, and didn’t she pour ointment over Jesus’s feet and wipe it up with her hair? But in fact we do not know the name of the woman who was caught in adultery. The Mary who poured ontiment over Jesus’s feet in John’s gospel was Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus and the story of the anointing of Jesus’s feet in Luke’s gospel doesn’t name the woman involved. It may have been Magdalene but we just don’t know.

The Mary Magdalene most people think they know is a combination of several women mentioned in the Gospels. So, how would we feel if Mary Magdalene were to walk into our company today? Would we accept that we know nothing about her and try to find out more? Or would we cling to all those colourful impressions about her, thinking they might be true, for they say there’s no smoke without fire? Would our judgement be based on the real person, or on the Magdalene of gossip and rumour. Too many people tend to make judgements first and find out the facts later. People who want to follow Christ need to be aware of the temptation to pre-judge others. We all carry our own prejudices based on who we are, what we have experienced and where we are in life. As one who suffered in her mental health (being rid by Jesus of her “seven demons”) Mary Magdalene probably had to endure negative responses from others. Who would want to go near a madwoman? Parents would warn their children to avoid her in case they too got possessed by a demon, like her. Yet Jesus reached out to her in kindness, reached out to the real Mary, the woman behind the facade people saw because of the tales that had been told about her. Mary responded by devoting the rest of her life to following Jesus and supporting his ministry, no matter what it might cost, financially or emotionally.

In popular devotion Mary Magdalene is patroness of penitents, reformed prostitutes, perfumers, hairdressers, and apothecaries. In paintings she is depicted in a posture of penance or an attitude of reflection, at the Foot of the Cross or before a Crucifix, at the empty tomb, or meeting the risen Christ (often with the words “Noli me tangere“-“Touch Me not”-inscribed in the painting), or carried by angels after her death. She is often symbolized by her alabaster jar; a skull symbolizing penance and a mirror; long, unveiled hair (often red); tears and red robes.

An old misunderstanding

In the long tradition of the church, including its artistic tradition, Mary Magdalene has generally been portrayed as the repentant sinner. This is largely due to her being mistakenly identified with the sinful woman who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears and dried them with her hair. There is not evidence to suggest in the gospels that she was any more a sinner than the other disciples of Jesus. The gospel reading for her feast which we have just read portrays her as a woman whose devotion to Jesus brought her to the tomb early on that first Sunday morning. Her heartfelt devotion to Jesus also left her outside the tomb weeping tears of loss when she discovered the body of Jesus was not there. She sought the Lord but could not find him. However, the Lord came seeking her and found her when he called her by her name, “Mary.”

Like Mary Magdalene, we too seek the Lord, and, like her, we are also the object of the Lord’s search. Indeed, the Lord’s search for us is prior to our search for him. Even if we struggle to make our way to the Lord, like Mary, the Lord always makes his way to us and calls us by our name. He is the Good Shepherd who, having laid down his life for us, now calls us by name. In calling us to himself by name, the Lord also sends us out, as he sent out Mary Magdalene, to bring the good news of his Easter presence to those we meet. The Lord who calls us by name also asks us to be his messengers to others. {MH}.

Our readers may be interested in the WOW Press-Release in favour of women’s ordination, for today’s feast of St Mary Magdalene.

One Comment

  1. Soline Humbert says:

    May Mary of Magdala,first witness to the Risen Christ and apostle to the apostles,help open hearts and minds to women’s many ministries and callings.Thank you for including the Women’s Ordination Worldwide press release with its heartfelt prayer’Longing for the Sun of Justice’.

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