Words of Light and Hope from Jane McLarty
Yesterday (Saturday 22nd July) was the festival of Mary Magdalene. We know little about her, although she is mentioned more often than many of the twelve apostles: we hear of her towards the end of Mark’s gospel (15:40) as one of the women who followed Jesus (a discipleship term) and provided for him during his ministry; Luke confirms this (8:2), and adds that Jesus had cast seven demons out of her. What the ancient world called demon possession we would often recognise as some form of physical or mental illness – so Jesus had freed Mary from serious suffering and as a result she responded to the call to ‘Follow me’ – and supported him with her financial resources. The Western church has frequently identified her, especially in art, with the nameless ‘sinner’ (assumed to be a prostitute) who anointed Jesus with expensive perfume, weeping, and drying his feet with her hair, though few scholars today would accept that identification. The Eastern Orthodox Church has never adopted it, seeing Mary Magdalene instead as a virgin, and in fact someone so virtuous that the devil sent his demons to infest her because he feared she might be chosen to bear the Messiah!
Mary Magdalene in John’s gospel comes early to the tomb and is the first to encounter the risen Jesus, thinking him to be the gardener. She recognises him only when he calls her by name – as the good shepherd earlier in the gospel calls his sheep by name, and they follow him trustingly, because they know him. As a result Mary Magdalene, the woman who had been rescued by Jesus from suffering, who had followed him faithfully to the foot of the cross and beyond, becomes what Thomas Aquinas called ‘the apostle to the apostles’, proclaiming the news of Jesus’ resurrection.
Here is the Collect for her saint’s day:
whose Son restored Mary Magdalene
to health of mind and body
and called her to be a witness to his resurrection:
forgive our sins and heal us by your grace,
that we may serve you in the power of his risen life;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.