THE POWER, PURPOSE & PERSONAL IN MARY MAGDALENE'S STROY
I’m a talker, a storyteller, a conversation-junkie. So I relish a fuller account. When my friends have something to tell me I ask them to start at the beginning and revel in the details, often asking multiple questions to really enter into their narrative.
So I find myself wishing that we had more of Mary Magdalene’s story written down in the Bible. Yes, I trust God’s guidance in what was included and what was left out. But it leaves me wanting more.
However, there is still a lot to unpack in her story. For me, there are (at least) three things that stir up deeper affection for Jesus.
First of all Jesus healed her of seven demons. This is her chief narrative, her life-altering testimony and what I believe drives her to follow Christ. We don’t know how long she was suffering, what her suffering was like, or exactly when or where the healing took place. We don’t know if she sought Jesus out, happened upon Him, or was pursued by Him. But what we do know is that her story confirms, highlights and underlines that Jesus had power over all things — nature, sickness, death and the supernatural world. Jesus can unlock any chain that keeps us bound. Jesus can free us from any oppression or possession. No other power rivals his power and no life is too damaged for his touch. I am strengthened and steadied by the reminder of the immense power of the Son of God.
Mary’s transformation doesn’t stop with being healed and freed. Having a clear mind might have been enough of a miracle. Being able to be a safe and sane member of her family and community could have been life-altering enough. But Jesus had an even bigger plan for her life. This point blesses me so much–that God not only wants peace for our lives; He also wants to re-establish purpose in our life. He calls us to contribute, to share and serve, and to help build his kingdom.
My guess is that these seven demons relegated Mary to the edge of society — like the demon-possessed man in Mark 5. Before being healed by Jesus, he had been driven to the lonely cemetery on the outskirts of town. After being healed, Jesus directed this man to return to his community to testify. Similarly, after Mary was healed, she returned to community by joining Christ’s band of disciples and found great purpose there.
The Bible tells us that Mary was one of the women who supported the ministry of Jesus out of their own means. This very small sentence means so much. Look how far Mary has come. She is not only a committed follower, she is a supporter. And by the way, I’m not sure the Bible mentions many (or any) men who supported Jesus’s ministry like this. For female followers to support Jesus with their own money seems unusual for that culture.
Think about this, the Son of God left the splendor of heaven to come and live a simple and nomadic life here. He could have used his power to procure any kind of support and provisions that he might have needed. Instead, He chose to accept the support of these female followers. I’m guessing that in her earlier life, Mary may have been ignored, feared or pitied. But now she is mentioned as one of the few contributors to the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. Isn’t it a great feeling to have purpose? To turn and contribute to the great work of God after we have been a recipient of the great work of God ourselves?
Lastly, I am inspired and moved by Mary’s presence at the cross and at the tomb. She was faithful until the end. She was the first person that Christ revealed himself to after he rose and exited the tomb. A woman –and therefore an unreliable legal witness in that culture–was the first to carry & share this earth-shaking good news to others. The way that our wise God arranged this interaction between God and Mary led to many results: it comforted and steadied the disciples, ushered in the New Covenant, began the Christian church and ultimately changed the world. But it also up-ended the world’s view and treatment of women and reminded us instead of God’s view and opinion of women.
In that tender moment outside of the open tomb — one of confusion, tears and finally awe-struck celebration–Jesus called Mary by name and Mary called Jesus by name. When Mary heard Jesus say her name, she understood what had happened. But just as powerful is Mary’s cry — “Rabboni” (Teacher), her name for Jesus. At first, it seems like a strange name to cry out when you see someone who rose from the dead. “Christ”, “Son of God”, “Messiah” or others may have seemed more suited for the occasion. But remember, for a woman in that culture to have been invited and included and taught the Word of God would have been monumental. It had to have been so dear to the women that God included in his circle — remember also Mary of Bethany sitting at Jesus’s feet, scolded by her more traditional sister. “Teacher” may have been the sweetest and most important word for these women. And it rolled off of Mary Magdalene’s tongue when she saw Him again, alive at the tomb.
As a female learner, lover and teacher of God’s Word myself, I still find myself in need of these sweet reminders of our inclusive God.
Maybe we can follow Mary’s example. Let us too cry out to Jesus in a very personal way. May we also feel free to call him by the name that is most meaningful and sweet to us. Friend. Healer. Shepherd. Savior. Teacher.
Jesus you are so good and sweet and personal to each and every one of us. You are powerful, you are restorative, and you give us purpose. You invite us to contribute and then accept our meager offerings. You break through cultural barriers and invite us all to sit under your teaching. You are so good!