5 lessons Mary Magdalen has taught me

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"St. Magdalena" from Albrecht Durer's "Great Crucifixion" c. 1521

“St. Magdalena” from Albrecht Durer’s “Great Crucifixion” c. 1521

Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means. (Luke 8:1-3)

1. Jesus can heal anyone, of anything. You and I can so easily write off people as “lost causes” or look down on them for their ‘status’ in society. But the fact that Mary Magdalen had seven demons driven from her demonstrates that no one is a lost cause; in Scripture, “seven” indicates something has been fulfilled or completed. Mary’s slavery to sin could clearly have gone no further. She’s what we would call a ‘lost cause’ — perhaps she committed all seven of the ‘deadly sins’. Yet even that was nothing to the Lord. So, who am I to question anyone’s worth?

2. Conversion empowers women. This passage names the “many” women who supported Jesus and the Twelve. Each had experienced a transformative conversion; the ultimate ‘beautification’ through their individual encounter with Jesus. Their role — providing the means and support necessary for Jesus and the Twelve — was a radical thing. These women were like the ‘CFOs’ and ‘Chief Benefactors’ of Jesus’ ministry. In other words, they were essential. God had freed them and raised them up. Today, this empowerment continues in the Catholic Church. We women contribute our gifts toward the successful ministry of bishops and clergy. Like Mary Magdalen and the “many others”, our conversion has empowered us to move beyond the slavery of sin, into our ultimate liberation found in Christ.

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” (John 20:11-13)

3. My past is my past. Especially for those of us who’ve struggled with trauma, flashbacks, and trudging through therapy sessions, Mary Magdalen’s story can be a comfort to us. We can assume she was devastated, completely overwhelmed with emotion. She’d witnessed her beloved friend and Teacher experience perhaps the most violent execution dealt by the Roman Empire, watched him die and see his body buried in the ground. Now his tomb was empty? I can only imagine the immense grief, frustration and despair she felt. Yet, when she recognized Jesus and proclaimed the Good News to the Twelve, she undoubtedly recognized that her old self was finally dead — dead and gone. “For we know that our old self was crucified with him […] that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin” (Romans 6:6-7).

But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. (Luke 24:11)

4. God chooses the weak to shame the strong. The woman who had once epitomized sin, Jesus chose as the first witness to his Resurrection. Though she clung to him, Jesus sent her to declare the Good News to the Twelve (cf. John 20). As men do when they’re feeling weak, the Twelve seem to have put up an emotionally-defensive wall. Who was this woman to claim such preposterous things? They did not believe. Yet, Jesus’ appearance to them set the record straight. When I feel unqualified for the task God has entrusted to me, when I would much rather stay and cling to his feet, I have to remember Mary Magdalen. Of her, the Church sings St. Paul’s words, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring [the] good news!”

5. Jesus is the most important person in my life. Mary Magdalen’s faithfulness to Jesus, remaining by his side even as his dead body was laid in the tomb, demonstrates Jesus’ essential role in her life. She is traditionally called ‘Apostle to the Apostles’ because she was first sent to them, to tell them Christ is risen. I can relate to this woman in many ways — as one who was sinful, wounded, and ultimately empowered by faith in Jesus. Her example teaches me that Jesus is always first. I pray that she’ll help me — and you — learn dependence on Jesus above everything else.

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