As human beings and Christians, our life of faith and relationship has its source in divine Love who eternally delights in each one of us as an image and likeness of God unlike any other. God’s yearning for companionship and union with all creatures has been, is now and always will be drawing us into the fullness of our created being, into the glory of the divine Life itself. Even now, divine yearning is active drawing us into community, to experience relationship with God and one another through shared worship and service. The present reality of our connectedness to one another in God, therefore, also rests on the foundation of all those who have gone before us as believers. There are some whom we have known personally, who have been instrumental in forming us in the love of Christ and our neighbor. And there are our common ancestors in faith, a lineage of saints stretching back to Jesus’ first disciples, those without whose witness to God’s mighty deeds we would not ourselves be disciples.minent among these ancestors is the sister and saint whom we celebrate this day, Mary Magdalene. Invoking the sacred memory of the early Jesus community as preserved in the New Testament, retreat leader and priest Cynthia Bourgeault writes, “The canonical gospels are unanimous in their testimony that [Mary Magdalene] was the first witness to Jesus’ resurrection and virtually unanimous that she was also steadfastly present throughout the entire crucifixion and burial,”
Searching further in the scriptures, we encounter Mary Magdalene as one so well known to the early Johannine community that in its gospel she requires no introduction whatever. John’s first mention of her portrays her standing at the cross, alongside the mother of Jesus and ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’. We meet her next discovering the empty tomb, bringing Peter and John to see, and then, left alone, encountering the risen Lord alone in the garden as she grieves in anguish and hope.
In Matthew, Mary Magdalene is identified as first among “the many women” who had followed Jesus from Galilee and had “provided for him”. Luke names her among “some women” who, with the Twelve, accompany Jesus as he “went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God.” This group of women are those reported to have been “cured” by Jesus “of evil spirits and infirmities”, with Mary Magdalene herself being one “from whom seven demons had gone out.” Luke also writes of Mary’s prominence among a highly unusual combination of male and female disciples who travel with Jesus. Equally remarkable, given the social norms of the day, is the gospel’s report that Mary Magdalene and the other women provided for Jesus and the male disciples “out of their own resources” as they journeyed together.
However, through the centuries, much of this record has been overlooked or ignored as the Church encountered cultural resistance to its existence. Attempts have been made seeking to diminish or discredit Mary Magdalene’s role as a disciple of Jesus. Many projections on and accretions to Mary’s story have obscured her vocation as a first witness to Jesus’ resurrection, as well as the importance of her proclamation as “apostle to the apostles,” ‘I have seen the Lord.’
In her book, Six New Gospels, author Margaret Hebblethwaite employs meditative imagination to “flesh out” the story of Mary Magdalene’s healing by Jesus and her resulting intimate bond with him. Through a delving between the lines and into the gaps of the gospels’ account, the reader is offered a first-person narrative of a young adult woman who, having grown up in a family made wealthy by the flourishing fishing industry of Galilee, has known few material deprivations. “Yet,” says this Mary of Magdala, “I do not mind telling you that before I met Jesus I was a mess…I was sick mentally and emotionally, intellectually and spiritually, socially and morally, and even physically.” A difficult, long yet steady healing process of this seven-fold depressive disorder is begun when she meets Jesus speaking to the local synagogue. Jesus’ message of God’s desire for “a world where the sick are made well and victims become free” draws Mary to follow him as her leader and teacher.
In a relationship of trust and risk-taking with Jesus and his other followers, Mary is restored to full human wholeness—the newness of life, intended and envisioned by God for all his creatures from the beginning of the world. She is cured of her multiple ailments to body, mind and spirit. All her wounds—some self-inflicted, others the result of brokenness and sin in flawed individuals and societal assumptions and systems—all are healed.
With Jesus’ companionship, Mary is empowered, miraculously and naturally to find her true self. Learning and living Jesus’ unflinching realism and faithful humility, Mary passes through her heaviness of soul, beyond tears as her food day and night, to emerge with shining face and bright eyes in the light of God’s glory and the glory of being fully human. Through the example of her Teacher and Lord, Mary learns to bear willingly the griefs of others as well as her own. And, so, she comes to take her share in the ministry of reconciliation to which Jesus commissioned the Twelve, the Seventy and all the others who followed him. Mary joins Jesus’ disciples as ‘a wounded healer’, a healer with an empathic disposition toward others be they the disabled or ‘walking’ wounded. She is a healer whose power and confidence for ministry rise from a soul of joyful gratitude to God for her own restored wholeness.
Mary has been chosen to accompany Jesus in active ministry as an adept disciple. She has herself chosen the way of vulnerable, radical availability and self-giving love which Jesus models as being truly human, reflecting the nature of God. Mary is made another “beloved disciple”, a female counterpart to the beloved John whose name we brothers have taken “to show that we too are Christ’s friends and witnesses.”
Beloved Mary Magdalene, close companion of Jesus and our human sister: Pray that we be given hearts like yours, hearts which hear the Lord speaking our name and inviting us to the unending banquet of his risen life. Amen.
Bourgeault, Cynthia, The Wisdom Jesus: transforming heart and mind—a new perspective on Christ and his message, Shambhala, 2008
Hebblethwaite, Margaret, Six New Gospels: New Testament women tell their stories, Cowley, 1994
SSJE, The Rule of Life of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, Cowley, 1997
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