Sunday, 22 July 2018

A Pure Woman (John 20.1-18)

I was thinking about the subtitle Thomas Hardy gave to Tess of the d'Urbervilles.  "A Pure Woman". And how it upset the respectable Victorians - one publisher hav
"Noli me Tangere" - Correggio , Public Domain
ing already paid Hardy the advance for the novel then refused to publish it. Not just because of the sub-title. But it really underlined the way that Tess is a story of a woman who's constantly let down by men. OK, stabbing her lover to death in a Bournemouth boarding house was wrong. But she'd been pushed a long way, before she snapped.

Mary Magdalene has suffered a bit at the hands of men as well. Pope Gregory used as a helpful example of a repentant sinner - based solely on the way that she is mentioned in Luke 8, a chapter after a "sinful woman" that anointed Jesus with oil. And let's not worry about Dan Brown, eh? Or for that matter Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd-Webber. It doesn't help that so many women in the Bible are called Mary, as we try to work out whether Mary Mag was or was not (probably not) Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha.

What does the Bible tell us? That Mary was rich and independent enough to support Jesus. That Jesus had cast demons out of her. That when nearly all the brave male disciples had run away, Mary stood there at the cross, with Jesus's mother and with John, and watched her Lord die. She's not the supreme image of a repentant sinner - she's the embodiment of faith and love for Jesus. She's one who stuck with him - when all the others had fled. She is persistence and love and dedication personified.

And then very early on the first day of the week - Mary, among those who saw Jesus's last breath, who heard his last words - she's there again. Down at the tomb with a random selection of women and disciples. And she's the one who sees Jesus first.

She may have suffered at the hands of men through history. But not at Jesus' hands, as he gently says, "why are you crying?" And then, "Mary". And looking through her tears she sees her Messiah, her Saviour, restored to life but beautifully changed.  Though you wonder about the hurt of those words - "do not hold onto me" as he makes it clear to her that things aren't the same any more. This isn't just a restoration of the relationships he's had with his friends on earth. There's far more to do now than just hit the road again.

But Mary's going to be the first to take on the new job of what will now become the Church. She leaves the gardens, finds those useless, terrified disciples and becomes the first one to tell greatest news on earth to somebody else. "I have seen the Lord."

And so Mary Magdelene - among the last to see Jesus at his death. The first to see him alive. The first to tell out the Good News. The first apostle - sent to tell the message to the apostles. And the pattern of how the Church should always be. Faithful to Jesus, steadfast in despair, forever loving her Lord. And full of life, as it brings the Good News.

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  1. 'Mary was rich and independant enough to support Jesus' - that's interesting. I'm probably misunderstanding that quote, but I shouldn't have thought Jesus needed anyone to support him ?

  2. As far as we know, Jesus didn't earn money on his travels, and neither did the 12. there must have been others to fund, feed and water them, even if it wasn't Mary M

  3. Wean (and Angela), please read Luke 8-1:3. It is explicit.

    Also, the sinful woman in Luke 7 who anoints Jesus' feet (not head) is almost certainly neither Mary Magdalene nor Mary of Bethany (who anointed Jesus' head on different occasion).

    1. thanks David, that was what I was looking for


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