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Mary Magdalene: the mislabeled woman

Alicia Ambrosio

Monday, April 25, 2016

Some of the Salt + Light team went to the Holy Land on a pilgrimage. We had the opportunity to film reflections in various places of great importance. This is the text of a reflection was filmed at the Magdala Centre in Galilee. 
We are the Galilee region of Israel. Specifically, in Magdala, the same town that was home to Mary Magdalene, the woman we know as the apostle to the apostles. We know very little about the woman who is described as the apostle of the apostles, so this village helps fill in some background.
So far a first century synagogue has been unearthed, as well as paved streets, the ruins of mansions, and three ritual baths that used groundwater rather than rainwater. These few elements are quite important. These ritual baths are the first to be found that that used ground water instead of rainwater. This means Magdala has sophisticated plumbing. The paved streets and mosaics in the mansions, suggest wealth. Magdala seems to have been a thriving port city, at the forefront of commerce and culture. In its midst lived a woman named Mary.
This village tells us she was probably exposed to the world. From the Gospels we know she was a follower of Christ, she was at the crucifixion, she witnessed the resurrection, and she was the first person given the task of spreading the message of the resurrection. But how did she get there?
All four gospels refer to her as Mary Magdalene. Now, married women were described differently. For example: Mary the wife of Clopas, or Joanna the wife of Chuza. So we know Mary Magdalene was unattached. Three of the Gospels first introduce us to Mary Magdalene at the crucifixion. But Luke mentions here earlier. In Chapter 8 of his Gospel, Luke says:
"1 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.”
She is part of a group of women who provided for Jesus and the apostles “out of their own means”. So, she had her own money and because she was unattached, it was her own. Also, she is described as the one “from whom seven demons had gone out.” She’s not a sinner here, but someone who was possessed. In Jesus’ day that might have been what we call mental illness, depression, anxiety, or other psychological issues. Maybe it was addiction, or emotional problems caused by her past. Maybe she survived an abusive relationship and never healed. Whatever it was,it took over her, changed her personality, affected her daily life, kept her from having healthy relationships, maybe led her to make bad choices. At the very least was probably known in town as “that” Mary.
But then something happened. Probably right here in Magdala. We don’t have details but we can imagine it based on what we already know: Jesus the Nazarene came to the area to teach, probably even in this synagogue. A buzz would have built up in the region and in town people would have been talking about him. Maybe it took a little while before curiosity got the better of her, but finally one day, she quietly slipped into the crowd as he was teaching. Maybe she stuck to the back of the group, maybe she stayed in the shadows. She listened to him teaching and understood his message. His parables they wash over her like a healing balm, and sin into her soul. She looks around and sees people of all ages, backgrounds, professions, social standing gathered around this Man. He touched them, healed those who needed healing, accepted them and showed them love. As she takes this in, he looks straight at her. That gaze. Without words, without anyone else in the crowd knowing what is happening, he says “I know. This is not you. I know.” After he finished teaching perhaps she approached him. He didn’t treat her like “that” Mary, he wasn’t afraid to be seen talking to her. He gazed at her without fear, without derision, He spoke to her like a normal person, an equal, and maybe even invited her to come along with him to his next stop. It was done. He was the real deal. He wanted nothing from her but to tell her of the Father’s love for her. Maybe she tried to explain “no, no, you don’t want me to follow you, I’m a bad deal” but he didn’t care. She was his father’s creation and deeply loved.
Whatever her demons were, anxiety, depression, addiction, it stopped there. Life had meaning again. She had a purpose. She was loved. Whatever she had in Magdala she packed up, maybe sold, maybe gave away, and embarked on a new life, following Jesus. Her meeting Jesus changed her life forever and set her on a new path. She would do anything, anything, to make sure other people met him face to face.Because of that meeting in Magdala, some years later Mary finds herself at the foot of the cross. Even though meeting Jesus changed her forever, it did not mean life would always be all roses. The worst thing she can imagine comes to pass. This man who changed her life is killed, hung on a cross to die. She stands at the foot of the cross, weeps, takes comfort from the other women also at the foot of his cross. When he breathes his last, she is there,watching. When his body is taken down and carried off to the tomb, she is there. She stays away on the sabbath because she must. She locks herself away with the apostles, with Our Lady, bides her time. But then, she can’t stand it any longer. On the third day after his death, she must go to him. She rises early and goes to the tomb. Some of the Gospels say she went with the other women to anoint the body. The point is, in all four Gospels Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. She finds the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. Again, each Gospel tells it slightly differently, but the common point is she meets someone who tells her “he is not here” and then, it clicks. This is what Jesus had been talking about, the temple that would be destroyed and rebuilt in three days! He is risen. She rushes back to the place where the apostles are locked up together, wallowing in their fear. She bursts through the door and breathlessly exclaims "I have seen the Lord!" They freeze, look up, see the joy on her face. Maybe she repeats it again, “I have seen the Lord” and then continues to tell them what she saw and what he said to her. They are at peace.
Mary Magdalene, the once off-kilter woman with problems, is their apostle. She brings them the message they have been waiting for, the one thing they have been waiting to hear since that horrible, horrible day at Golgotha. The woman with the seven demons is the very person who instinctively seeks and recognizes the face of God and through that search and encounter, becomes the very person He created her to be.
Alicia Ambrosio is an English producer for Salt + Light. Follow her on Twitter!

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