There are many approaches to Mary Magdalene. Some people focus on her notorious past, while a variety scholars remind us that she might have been painted with the brush of prostitution to discredit her. Even to this day, she is rarely mentioned outside of the fact of her demon possession. For some, these are the demons that bedevil many woman, both ancient and modern, the demons that come with a patriarchal culture. Others might think that demon possession was how ancient culture understood mental illness.
Why hasn't the Church focused on her healing and subsequent steadfastness, rather than what might disqualify her from worthiness? Whole books have been written on that.
As I've been spending time with female saints, both the kind recognized by popes and the ones far from canonization, I've been thinking about how these centuries of church history might be different if we had treated women differently. Let's begin with Mary Magdalene as an example.
The theologian Cynthia Bourgeault wrote a book about Mary Magdalene, and she notes that Mary's presence at the resurrection is mentioned in all four gospels, either alone or in a group, but always there, always named. Most scholars agree that when a detail is present in more than one Gospel, it demands our attention and deeper consideration.
Mary Magdalene's presence at the resurrection is so important that all four Gospel writers include it. Why do we so rarely consider this in our modern churches?
Bourgeault calls our attention to this passage from Matthew 27:61: “And Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained standing there in front of the tomb.”
She says, "How would our understanding of the Paschal Mystery change if even that one sentence [from Matthew 27: 61] was routinely included in the Good Friday and Palm Sunday Passion narratives? What if, instead of emphasizing that Jesus died alone and rejected, we reinforced that one stood by him and did not leave?—for surely this other story is as deeply and truly there in the scripture as is the first. How would this change the emotional timbre of the day? How would it affect our feelings about ourselves? About the place of women in the church? About the nature of redemptive love?" (found in this meditation)
As I have settled into midlife, I've had similar thoughts. What if we had celebrated Mary Magdalene as the first witness to the resurrection? What if we celebrated her as the one who was first to
tell of the resurrection?
For that matter, what if instead of celebrating the evangelizing apostles who went out with very little in their pockets, we celebrated the ones who stayed to build up the communities that the apostles created? We rarely celebrate settling deep roots into a community and staying put. We often see those churches as stagnant and out of touch, even if they're the ones supporting the local elementary school and teaching new immigrants and running the food pantry.
Most of us can't be the kind of disciple that leaves family and commitments behind to traipse the country. Many of us have been raised to believe that's what Christ wanted us to do--there's a Great Commission after all that tells us to go to all the lands and make disciples. We don't hear about the families that the apostles left behind. How are they supposed to cope?
The lives of Mary Magdalene and other saints show us that there's more than one way to make disciples. There's more than one way to be missional.
Throughout our lives, we will suffer all sorts of death and loss. The world will give us many tombs. Today, let us focus on the ways we can remain steadfast and true to our callings. Today let us remain at the tomb alert for resurrection.