Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Festival of St. Mary of Magdala

John 20:1-2, 10-18; Acts 13:26-31; Proverbs 31:10-31

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
You have to face it, there are a awful lot of Mary’s in the New Testament! It can get a bit confusing at times to sort them all out! The Gospels of St. Mark and St. Luke each identify Mary of Magdala as a woman from whom Jesus cast out seven demons. However, there is a church tradition that also links Mary of Magdala with the unnamed “woman in the city who was a sinner” mentioned in St. Luke’s Gospel who washed Jesus' feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and kissed them, though there is no scriptural basis for this conclusion. Similarly, another church tradition links Mary of Magdala with the unnamed woman whom Jesus saved from being stoned to death for adultery in St. John’s Gospel, yet once again there is no scriptural basis for this identification. Nevertheless, it is easy to see why, today, the name Mary Magdalene often evokes the image of a prostitute and adulterer, for when something is repeated long enough, whether it is true or false, it is often believed to be true regardless of refuting evidence. Add to this the suggestions of spurious documents often written hundreds of years after the Gospel which claim that Mary Magdalene held a special place amongst Jesus’ disciples and may even have been His wife and the mother of His child, sometimes said to be a daughter, we are left with a most confused conception of Mary of Magdala that can be far removed from the testimony of scripture. As a result, we are want to say, “Will the real Mary of Magdala please stand up!”
What we know about Mary of Magdala must come from the scriptures and not from speculation or spurious extra-biblical documents. And, what we know about Mary of Magdala from scripture is that: Jesus cast seven demons out of Mary. She followed Him, supported His ministry, and witnessed His crucifixion. She lingered at Jesus’ tomb and was the first person to see Him after His resurrection. Jesus called her by name saying, “Mary,” and she answered by calling Him “Rabboni,” which means, “Teacher.” Though she wanted to hold on to Him and never let Him go again, Jesus forbade her to cling to Him, but He sent her to tell the other disciples about His resurrection, effectively making Mary of Magdala an apostle to the Apostles. What we discover when we strip away all the historical speculation and conspiracy theories concerning Mary of Magdala and deal only with what the scriptures say concerning her is that she was a woman of great faith and love for her LORD God and for His Messiah, Jesus, whom she also loved and followed because He was the fulfillment of God’s Word for the life of the world.
And so it is that Mary of Magdala is like unto the woman of valor -- or more accurately, according to the Hebrew, the woman of power-- as described in our Old Testament reading today from Proverbs. Proverbs 31 is much beloved and treasured by all for its vivid depiction of the ideal godly woman. Such a woman “fears the LORD” and is “far more precious than jewels.” Unlike the virgins in Jesus’ parable, “Her lamp does not go out at night,” but she remains ever faithful and vigilant in maintaining and sustaining her faith, and the faith of her husband and children. Idle words do not fall from her lips, but “she opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” Her value is not estimated in jewels, charm, and beauty, but in her fear of the LORD and in her works, the fruit of her faith. And so, you see, that the woman of valor, the woman of power, is powerful in faith in the LORD and is fruitful in works of love, mercy, and compassion which serve her family and neighbors and glorify the LORD. Her beauty is not in vain and ephemeral, fleshly and worldly things, and her strength and power are in the LORD her God.
However, this is not the way you’ve come to think of Mary of Magdala, is it? No, our perverted and fallen world, culture, and flesh, even within Christ’s Church, have made Mary out to be a sexual being, a prostitute and an adulterer, instead of a woman of faith and piety who clung to her Lord Jesus in faith. “But, if she had seven demons she must have been a horrible sinner?” you may ask. No, not necessarily. Neophytes, that is, new believers are often attacked ferociously by the devil as he knows that they are beginning to slip his grasp. Jesus had done a wonderful thing for Mary. He set her free from demonic oppression. She followed Him and served Him with eager devotion, likely from the very beginning of His ministry, and she readily told any and all the great things He had done for her. She was present at Jesus’ crucifixion and she was likely the very first to arrive at Jesus’ empty tomb on Easter Sunday. Mary of Magdala was a woman of valor, a woman of power, for Christ was her strength and her power, the source and object of her faith and works.
Early Easter morning, Mary came to the tomb while it was still dark. Surely she was wondering, like those who would come after her, how she would roll away the massive stone that sealed Jesus’ tomb. Whatever she thought and believed about Jesus’ teaching concerning His resurrection on the third day, Mary had come to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ dead body. Imagine her astonishment, even her horror, when she saw that the stone had already been rolled away! Her first thought was that those who had handed Him over to be crucified had now taken away His body, so she went to tell Peter and the other disciples. Returning to the tomb, Mary eeked up the courage to look inside. There she beheld two angels in white robes standing at the head and the foot of where Jesus had lain. Some early Church Fathers have seen in this an analogy of the Holy Trinity: Two angels representing the Father and the Spirit, standing at the head and foot of where the Son, Jesus, had lain. Hadlain, for He was not dead, but God’s Son had risen, He was alive, just as He had said He would be! Then she turned around, and there He was, though she didn’t recognize Him. You see, some things are truly too good to be true, or so we suppose! There was Jesus, alive and standing right before her, but her limited reason and understanding would not permit her to see. Like the angels before, Jesus asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Her Teacher and Redeemer, her Good Shepherd and Bridegroom was right there before her; there was no need for weeping. But then, Jesus called her by name. “Mary,” He said. And then her eyes were opened and she saw Him and knew that it was Jesus! “Rabboni!” she cried, which means “Teacher!” And, she wanted to throw her arms around Him and hold on to Him, but He said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God’.” Mary went at once and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord” and that He had said all these things to her!
Mary’s sins, just as your sins and my sins, once threatened as a large stone to keep her in her tomb. But, Jesus took away the stone and set her free from her sins. The grave could no longer hold Mary, and it can no longer hold you! Released from the burden of her sin, Mary was free to live and to serve her LORD and her neighbor to the glory of His Name. Instead of using her mouth to make excuses for her mistakes, like the woman of valor and power Mary used her mouth to speak wisdom and kindness. The woman Jesus released from demonic oppression had become a mouthpiece for the LORD, filled with His Holy Spirit. It was St. Thomas Aquinas who first gave Mary of Magdala the title “Apostle to the Apostles” saying, “Just as a woman had announced the words of death to the first man, so also a woman was the first to announce to the Apostles the words of life.”
St. Mary of Magdala is but one of a multitude of our LORD’s saints who extol His mighty works and sing His praise in witness to others. She stands with us as our sister in Christ whose sins have been forgiven in the blood of Jesus Christ. As Jesus healed Mary from her infirmities, so has He healed us and has made us witnesses of His grace and mercy, love and compassion. Let us go forth and proclaim His love and forgiveness to all in boldness and hope and joy!
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.Te

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