Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute. This was the result of some very lazy conflations and probably great sexism in the early church. Because Jesus was said to have driven “seven demons” from her, Mary was thus thought to have been sinful in her previous life and, mainly due to a few church fathers, she was identified with prostitution. Essentially, it seemed that the early church (that is, after the time of the disciples) gravitated toward two poles when describing women: either as virgins or prostitutes. The idea that Mary was a strong, powerful and influential woman, a disciple in her own right, may have been too difficult to accept.
Whatever Mary’s sins were, or had been, it is clear that she was a key member of the disciples. (Also, she wasn’t married to Jesus, as Dan Brown claims in “The Da Vinci Code.” This too is a subtle form of sexism: she is seen as important only by virtue of who her husband is.) Mary is also, as we see in today’s Gospel (from John, often thought to be an eyewitness, or to be the “beloved disciple”) is the first one to whom Christ appears after the Resurrection. What a privilege! What a sign of his love for her! What a sign of her fidelity to him! Then the Risen One himself asks Mary to return to the disciples and proclaims what she has seen. “I have seen the Lord,” she says simply.
Thus, my favorite title for this woman, which is not “prostitute” or “reformed sinner” or “the penitent one,” but something far more important: Apostle to the Apostles.
Also, notice that Mary does not recognize Jesus until he speaks her name. I’ve always thought this so beautiful. She couldn’t recognize him (most likely because of the heretofore unexperienced appearance of his glorified body) but she knew that distinctive voice, the one with the accent from Nazareth–the voice that called her into wholeness when it expelled whatever demons were troubling her, the voice that welcomed her into Jesus’s circle of friends, the voice that told her she was valued by him, the voice that answered her questions about God, the voice that counseled her near the end of his earthly life. That voice she knew, because it was a voice that had always spoken to her in love. Then she recognizes.
Because sometimes seeing is not believing. Loving is.
(first published on the Facebook page of Fr James Martin SJ on Easter Tuesday)