Most of the women in the gospels are known by their connection with a man: a husband, a father, even an employer. Mary of Magdala, a woman characterised by her connection with a town, had no such status.
Her story begins on the west bank of the Lake of Galilee, just south of Capernaum, in the town of Magdala. King Herod’s first wife had been called Mary. The name became popular and was given to a baby who grew to be the most famous of Jesus’ women followers.
When she first met Jesus, Mary was possessed by seven devils. To be described that way can only suggest the mixed bag of evil — mental, spiritual, and physical — which must have been Mary’s experience. She was a woman who had tasted all the bitter dregs of the evil that life had to offer. A woman who became a social outcast.
The New Testament records four steps in Mary’s spiritual growth. First her healing. Whether the demons from which Mary was freed were spiritual, mental, or physical matters very little. For an insight into that event, we need only to look at the difference between Legion — the man healed of demon possession in Gadarea — and the quiet man, clothed in his right mind, who sat afterwards with Jesus.
Those who knew Mary recognized that the destructive forces which had previously been so powerful, had lost their grip on her. The change in her was so dramatic that, for the rest of the gospel writings, she was still described as, “Mary Magdalene from whom he had cast out seven demons” (Mark 16:9).
Mary’s healing led to a social healing — a step into community. It must have been something of a risk to have Mary of Magdala, the woman who had seven devils, identified among your close followers. But Mary became part of the community of men and women who followed Jesus of Nazareth — named always first among the women as Peter is first among the men. She was always there to care for Jesus and his followers. Maybe she cared for the food, the laundry…who knows. The important thing is that she was part of the group. Grateful, like so many women throughout the pages, simply to be near Jesus and his followers — to belong. Even if that meant, as it did for all of them, the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem and to Calvary.
On the Sunday after Jesus died, Mary was the first to come to the tomb. She came believing that her relationship with Jesus was finished. All that was left now was to care for his lifeless body. All that was left was to do the only job left: to prepare his body for burial and final separation from those he loved. The demons of discouragement and depression must have hovered near.
Then came the final step in Mary’s healing. To her amazement, Mary met Jesus — alive and well and calling her by her name.
Mary’s natural reaction when she saw Jesus was to cling to him, deriving comfort from his physical presence. But Jesus, it seems, was looking to the future. He offered another step in Mary’s healing — a new phase in her commitment to him.
Jesus called Mary to give the news of his resurrection. In a world where a woman’s testimony was invalid in a court of law, Jesus appointed her as his spokeswoman. As she wiped her tears, Jesus kindled a new fire of hope in Mary. He roused her to find new resources within herself. He gifted her with a new task, a new mission, a new voice.
It didn’t stop with Mary. Jesus’ last gift to Mary is the Easter gift to us all: the gift of new ways of being and doing, the gift of growth into new hope, a new mission, a new life.
All of us may know in our own lives the Easter message of Mary Magdalene: the Lord is Risen. He is Risen indeed.
Further Reading: The Women of the Passion
Helen Pearson is a counselor, psychotherapist, writer, and trainer from Wokingham in England and a longtime elder of Newbold Church. She and her husband, Michael, run a website, Pearsons’ Perspectives, where this and similar articles can be found. It is reprinted here with permission.
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