22Jul 22nd of July (Tuesday). Saint Mary Magdalene

Mary of Magdala.

Mary (Mariam) of Magdala is the woman whom Jesus cleansed of “seven demons”. She traveled with Jesus and his followers and was present at two crucial moments: the crucifixion and the resurrection. She is often named in the Gospels, more than any of the apostles except Peter. She is mainly honoured for her fidelity and as the first witness to the resurrection.

1) 2 Cor 5:14-17.

(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!

Gospel: Matthew 13:18-23

(Mary recognises the risen Christ, beside the empty tomb.)

“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

A woman of faith and love

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 of her 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” — 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.