Mary Magdalene: Follower, Benefactor, Pupil, Apostle, Teacher, Friend, Close-trusted confidant, Intimate family member. Powerful Woman and Spirit, Messenger of Love
Medical professionals as a rule are privy to confidential and personal relationships within families and with the people they take care of. When a person these days is in the hospital, or is on their deathbed, other than those helping professionals, it is only the immediate family that are by the sick person’s side. Others may come and visit. People will send good wishes and prayers. Cards and flowers will come. But at the bedside, only necessary close family will be there…
Bridget Mary Meehan, in her book, Praying With Women of the Bible (1998), notes that Mary Magdalene was “the only person, mentioned in all four gospels, at the cross and the tomb. She was the first to see the Risen Christ.” Seeing Mary Magdalene in a new light and in a contemporary way is sometimes blocked by our own historical views. How could a person from 2000 years ago be like us? They have to be different! However, comparing what we know about Mary Magdalene with any person acting as she did, even today, the new insight to her presence in Jesus’s life is so obvious. No person could be mentioned so much, especially a woman, and not be of import.
As noted by Joan Chittister in her book, The Friendship of Women, The Hidden Tradition of the Bible (2006), Mary Magdalene as a woman is mentioned fourteen times throughout all four Gospels, and only Mary of Nazareth, the mother of Jesus, is mentioned more. Bridget Mary Meehan notes that Mary Magdalene is considered to be one of the leaders of the women followers of Jesus,
These concepts are radical as we look historically down the 2000 year funnel towards women in an oppressed country. In a way, it could be considered that these disciples of Jesus had more freedoms than many women today.
Granted, Jesus had a part in that. He himself treated the women as equals in his presence. He must have included them in his “round table” and in his own life. The presence of women was important to him, and that is why Mary Magdalene is mentioned so many times, and in such a personal way. Mary Magdalene became family to Jesus.
It’s time now that we reframe Mary. Using the techniques mentioned in Wisdom’s Feast, An Invitation to Feminist Interpretation of Scripture, by Barbara Reid, we might ask the following: Is giving Mary legitimacy as the “Apostle to the Apostles” conducive to enhancing feminist theology and equality of women? Of course she was the first and closest person to Jesus. Do we need to reframe her consistent presence throughout the Bible and question her importance? Only the closest friends and family will be at the sick bed, at the dying ones side, at the funeral home making the “arrangements.” This is the place of Mary Magdalene.
Understanding that she was an intimate friend of Jesus does not make her an intimate partner. That is a different set of questions and assumptions. Women can be close to others, and not have it be partner relationships. Continued questioning and investigation and contemporary views of female liberation theology can somehow open the window to new ways of looking at women’s relationships. Women can have interactions with both women and men, and be legitimate persons in their own right. Do women always have to be defined by their gender? It seems not.
These are important questions and views that focusing on Mary Magdalene might help to unravel. In the meantime, her life, her courage, and her actions show us the importance to be who we have been called to be. She was not afraid to stand up and support Jesus. She showed us all the art of intimate trusting friendship. She continues to this day to be a witness to Jesus and to Love.
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