Published by Jason Taylor on Sat, 22 Jul 2017 16:14
‘Mary Magdalene’, Andrea Solario and Bernardino Luini

Above: ‘Mary Magdalene’, Andrea Solario and Bernardino Luini 

Today The Church of England remembers Mary Magdalene, after whom our Parish Church in Brampton is named. I say that, but documents I have found seem to suggest that originally we may have been the parish church of St. Mary the Virgin. Be that as it may, we are now named after Mary of Magdala and this weekend is what the church calls our Patronal Festival. In years gone by this would have been a very big deal and there would have been special celebrations; whilst this is still the case in some parishes, the majority no longer observe their patronal festival or do so in a much reduced way.

It has been common to think of Mary as something of a 'scarlet woman' and many theologians and commentators have declared that she was probably a prostitute, a woman of loose morals but there is very little historical evidence to support this.

What does seem probable from the biblical texts is that she was somebody who found forgiveness for past wrongs in Jesus. That he accepted her and loved her when the rest of her community shunned her. 

Motivated by gratitude she pushes her way into a meal at which Jesus was present. She anoints his feet with expensive perfume, wipes them with her hair and smothers them in kisses (an act which further caused people to think she was probably a prostitute)

We also find Mary at the cross, long after almost everyone else (and certainly all the men) had abandoned Jesus and it is to Mary that Jesus appears first after is resurrection:

It was very early on the first day of the week and still dark, when Mary of Magdala came to the tomb. She saw that the stone had been moved away from the tomb and came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb,” she said, “and we don’t know where they have put him.”

Peter and the others rush to the tomb to see for themselves, then disperse again.

Meanwhile Mary stayed outside near the tomb, weeping. Then, still weeping, she stooped to look inside, and saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head, the other at the feet. They said, “Woman, why are you weeping?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” As she said this she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, though she did not recognize him. Jesus said, “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and remove him.” Jesus said, “Mary!” She knew him then and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbuni!”—which means Master. Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” So Mary of Magdala went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that he had said these things to her.

Those words of Jesus to Mary (in Latin, "noli me tangere") in the garden gave rise to the famous painting by Antonio da Correggio:

Often scorned by historians and theologians, the story of Mary of Magdala is still profound for many reasons:

  • Firstly, she is woman and women were very definitely second-class citizens at the time but Jesus accepts her and empowers her. Women were not allowed to be witnesses in court or to earn a living independently of a male relative.
  • In accepting one woman, Jesus shows that the Kingdom of God is open to all who wish to enter. It is not about gender, power or position in society but rather acknowledging your need for forgiveness.
  • Probably most significantly, Mary was the first female disciple. A disciple is someone who is sent by another and has authority to speak and act on their behalf. We read in the biblical text above from John's gospel that Jesus told her to, "go to my brothers and say to them, "I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”  Jesus sent her to the other disciples with a message.

When we cut through the historical prejudice surrounding Mary Magdalene we can see past the "woman of questionable morals" and instead see a remarkable woman who suffered a great deal during her life. When she encountered Jesus she found forgiveness and a new beginning and was willing to break every social convention and rule to say thank you. Jesus includes her as one of his disciples and in doing so lifts all women up, making them equal with men of the time and sending a clear message to the establishment. Now that sounds like something worth celebrating to me!

Categories Rector's Blog