May 22, 2103
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Mark 15:40-41.
There were also women looking on from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the younger James and of Joses, and Salome. These women had followed him when he was in Galilee and ministered to him. There were also many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.
It’s interesting that Mark singled out these women. Women who were more constant than any of the apostles in following Jesus from Galilee everywhere he went including Golgotha. Later we learn that both Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joses were present when Jesus was buried, planned to anoint his body after the sabbath, and discovered the empty tomb. They also ministered to his needs presumably in such ways as preparing meals, mending clothes, and trimming hair. I imagine that they ministered to him in other ways as well principally by listening, encouraging, and supporting emotionally as women are wont to do. They didn’t complain when there wasn’t enough food to feed crowds. They didn’t make claims upon him like John and James in asking to be seated at his side when he came into his glory. They didn’t berate him like Peter. They didn’t betray him like Judas or abandon him at his crucifixion. They were with him through thick and thin.
The Gospel of Mary of Magdala was written in the early second century, but did not come to light until 1896 with two more fragments discovered in the twentieth century. The first edition was not published until 1955 with the third fragment included in 1983. Fewer than eight pages (less than half) of the text written on papyrus have survived including the first six pages. Part of what has survived has Mary recounting a vision of the risen Jesus and what he taught her. Peter and Andrew don’t believe her. Peter didn’t believe that Jesus would have given such advanced teaching to a woman and Andrew objected that her vision was too strange. Furthermore, Peter couldn’t accept that Jesus would have preferred her to them, his chosen disciples. Such disputes and struggles were common among the early Christian communities as we know from Acts of the Apostles and from Paul’s letters.
It’s fascinating that Mary Magdalene is portrayed as an important disciple or follower in the gospels but Western Christianity in the fourth century began to depict her as a prostitute. Not so in the Eastern Orthodox church. By the end of the sixth century Pope Gregory gave a sermon identifying Mary as the unnamed, sinful woman in Luke’s gospel and the also unnamed women in Mark’s gospel from whom seven devils were cast out. These seven devils represented the vices including fornication. Her reputation as a sullied woman became firmly implanted in Christian lore. Mary Magdalene, a woman who was prominent and clearly a favorite of Jesus, has been turned into a whore, identified with sex and sin. While his mother Mary came to be completely alienated from her sexual nature.
Though women played an important role in the early Christian communities, by the fourth century when Constantine legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire he recognized a group of male bishops as the leaders, which was in keeping with Roman culture. Women have been removed from the power structure of the Church ever since. A lamentable loss even though they have for centuries continued humbly to serve others as they did for Jesus as he modeled for them. We can at least be grateful that God created women with serving hearts.