What a brutal season of darkness the followers of Christ had experienced. From the shock of Jesus’ arrest and trials to the brutality of the crucifixion to the fear that they were next—all of it had driven them into hiding. The disciples had been devastated by the events of those recent days. Their sensibilities had been shaken by the death of the Master. That is what death does—it shakes us.
In over twenty years of pastoral ministry, I have stood by the graves and the grieving families of many people. Too many, I guess. Yet it seems from those experiences that one of the things that is ever-present in episodes of grief is the hunger to do something. Grief demands an outlet, so we look for something to do, to show our love one final time.I felt this deeply in 1980 when my father died. People—wanting to do something to help—brought food, sent flowers, mailed cards, and offered words of comfort. Family members, especially the seven kids that had called the deceased “Dad,” shared memories, attended to details of the memorial, and saw to the care of our mom. The days crawled by, and it seemed like nothing we did made any appreciable difference. Nothing could dull the pain of this deep loss, and I found myself unable to express my sorrow except to stand vigil by the casket—a silent sentinel of pain that wouldn’t go away. Unable to do anything else, at least able to stand watch.
I suspect those feelings are very similar to the emotions Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (along with Salome and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward) must have felt as they made their way to the tomb of Jesus. Helpless to do anything but grieve, they had found a final way to express their love and devotion to the Christ. In their haste to beat the Sabbath deadline, the burial party had not ministered to the body of Jesus as thoroughly as possible. With their arms loaded with spices and embalming supplies, they left early in the morning to go to the tomb and finish the burial ceremony.
It is wonderfully appropriate that Mary of Magdala should be there. In these events, she becomes our guide and our proxy. She stands in our stead to bear witness of the events that would reshape the world. Who was she?
FoxNews.com reported the following story in April 2003:
Nineteen-year-old Ryan Allen was wondering why the car salesman was taking so long to check his credit. After an hour and a half, the manager of the Kansas City Chevrolet dealership came into the room with a strange question. “‘Have you ever been to Yemen?’ I go ‘No,’” Ryan said, according to KETV-TV of Omaha. Turns out he may share a Social Security number with Ramzi Binalshibh, a Yemeni man thought to be one of the planners of the Sept. 11 terror attacks and currently being held in U.S. custody at an undisclosed location. After the April 10 discovery, the dealership called the police, who called the FBI, which refused to do anything about the matter since Binalshibh had already been arrested, Allen said. Allen didn’t get his Chevy Cavalier, and a spokesman at Van Chevrolet refused to comment to the Associated Press, but that might be the least of his problems for the near future. Binalshibh—and by association, Allen as well—is on a list kept by the U.S. Treasury that orders U.S. banks to block assets of suspected terrorist financiers and enforces sanctions against some countries and suspected drug overlords.
What unfortunate consequences for that young man—all because of mistaken identity. The reputation of Mary Magdalene has also suffered greatly over the years due to a kind of “mistaken identity,” but perhaps nothing has done more damage to her name than the spate of media efforts—from The Last Temptation of Christ to The
Da Vinci Code—that have taken her from the role of a true worshiper of Christ to that of an alleged lover. Add to that the fact that, for years, film presentations of the life of Christ have followed traditions that presented Mary Magdalene in one way, and one way only—as a prostitute. It is important to note that there is absolutely no biblical evidence to support such a representation. This woman was much more than some kind of amoral glorified groupie. She was a true believer—and privileged beyond all others! What we do know of her is found in this account of her conversion in Luke 8:1–3:
Soon afterwards, He began going around from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. The twelve were with Him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means.
What do we learn here of this Mary, called Magdalene?
• She was of Magdala. Some say she was called this because she was “a plaiter of hair,” but it more likely is a reference to a region east of the Jordan River in the lower Galilee, an area that was probably not far from the chief city of Tiberias. Magdala is believed to have been a region with a number of villages, any of which Mary might have called home.
• She had been demonized. She had been possessed by no fewer than seven demons! Imagine what her life must have been like as she lived under the torment and control of these fallen angels who had possessed her body. Look at one account of the horrible life of a demoniac.
And one of the crowd answered Him, “Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; and whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth and stiffens out. I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not do it.”
And He answered them and said, “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him to Me!”
They brought the boy to Him. When he saw Him, immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion, and falling to the ground, he began rolling around and foaming at the mouth.
And He asked the father, “How long has this been happening to him?”
And he said, “From childhood. It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” (mark 9:17–22).
• She had been rescued. Christ had found her in this terrible condition and had exercised the power of heaven to deal with the fallen spirits that were consuming her life. Jesus had cast those demons from her and set her free. Her life was instantly changed!
How did she respond? By becoming a devoted follower of Christ who not only talked the talk, but walked the walk. She put her money where her mouth was in support of the ministry of Christ and His disciples. Her life, values, priorities—all had been changed, radically transformed by the grace of Jesus Christ! Of course, one of the unfortunate realities we often deal with in the family of God is people who are all charged up for Christ when they first trust Him and then cool down spiritually. Would Mary of Magdala be just another casualty?
Study: Examine the many times that Luke mentions women in his gospel account—far more than the other three gospels. What are the different ways they are portrayed? Why do you think he featured women so prominently?
Reflect: Loss of hope is a devastating experience. When have you felt hopeless? What caused it? How did you respond/recover from that hopelessness?
Apply: Experiencing grief is a significant part of life in a broken, dying world. How could Mary’s devoted love—even in the midst of her grief—offer us an example of how to respond to our own grief?