Tag Archives: John 20

Mary of Magdala: A Heart Set Free (Part 2)

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We have taken a look at what we know about Mary. I want to quickly go over…

What people (tradition) believe(s) about Mary that we can’t know for certain:

Part of the problem we have when trying to find Mary Magdalene in the gospels is that her name was MARY! There are so many Mary’s! It’s no wonder we get confused about which one is which. Not only are there several Mary’s, but the gospel writers don’t always give them the same designations, so it’s difficult to determine which Mary each writer is referring to.

For example here are parallel accounts of the verse listing the women at the cross:

  • John 19:25 “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”
  • Matthew 27:55-56 56 among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.”
  • Mark 15:40-41 “…among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome
  • Luke 23:49 49 And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.”

I really thought I could count on Luke giving us the details that he is so often known for! But he doesn’t even give the names!

Another issue we encounter is that the Greek had NO punctuation and no spaces. This was because paper was precious and costly, so they would not waste even one dot or comma in writing the accounts. They wrote in all capital letters, squeezing everything together to get the most use of their space. So our English translations take the words and make them readable in English, adding commas and end marks. This, however, takes some interpretation, which means that each translation may interpret the punctuation differently. Here are two examples of this:

John 19:25 ESV

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.        = 3 women

(I say there are three women listed because the comma after sister is a comma to set off an appositive. It would be like me talking about my sister, Lesley the wife of Bryan. I’m not talking about two different people. I’m giving you more information about who my sister is, just as John is giving us more information about who Mary’s sister is.)

Now compare the same verse to John 19:25 in the NIV

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.         =4 women

See what I mean? So confusing!! But then you’d think that maybe the scholars would be helpful, right?

If you go to a scholarly sight and type in “Mary Magdalene”, you might be surprised to find how many peer-reviewed, scholarly journals there are today that have NOTHING to do with the biblical Mary of Magdala. You’ll find results for Dan Brown (fiction), the term “prostitute”, and even Mary of Bethany.

The confusion began in the fourth century when some Christian theologians in the Latin West began to identify Mary Magdalene (Lk 8:1-3) with Mary of Bethany (who was the sister of Martha and Lazarus). (From Elizabeth Julian The Mary Mergers)

So as we read Mark 14 when a Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive oil, we should be careful to recognize this Mary as Martha’s sister, and it was in the town of Bethany. In other words, not Mary Magdalene.

Mary Magdalene does not equal Mary, the mother of Jesus OR Mary of Bethany OR Mary, the wife of Clopas. (One obvious reason that we can conclude Mary Magdalene is not the mother of Jesus or the wife of Clopas is simply that those three are often named in the same sentence. So unless they had some multiple personalities going on, we can safely rule out these women.)

And then you have women who are unnamed. Completely anonymous. This is where things get sticky. There are lots of beliefs in tradition concerning the woman caught in adultery and the “sinful” woman who washed Jesus’ feet with perfume and her tears. So here’s the history behind that confusion:

It was in the 6th century, that Pope Gregory began to identify Mary Magdalene as the prostitute whose 7 demons were the 7 cardinal sins. Thus Mary Magdalene is now often the one attributed as the woman in these stories. He made a spurious connection that since Mary Mags had demons cast out of her, those demons must have caused her to do “sinful” things, thus naming her the “sinful” woman mentioned in Luke 7 who washed Jesus’ feet. The other problematic connection is that people believe that the demons drove her to prostitution, thus naming her as the prostitute about to be stoned in John 8.

So I believe that Mary Magdalene is not equal to the sinful woman in Luke 7 or the adulterous woman in John 8. One of the reasons I believe Mary Magdalene was NOT one of these women is that it appears as though the gospel writers are careful to write Mary Magdalene any time she is mentioned. So she would likely not be anonymous.

The only other belief that many teachers held about Mary Mag is that she was intimate with Jesus. (Even Martin Luther in the 16th century believed this!) I can’t even entertain this obviously false belief. Mary was listed among a group of women who helped Jesus in His itinerant ministry. There is no reason to believe that she had some special relationship with Him, least of all an inappropriate one. Mary Mags does not equal Jesus’ wife. Because He didn’t have one!

Though it would be nice to find Mary Mag in more narratives, I hate to break it to you, but she’s just not there! (at least not overtly)   😦   So now you know how to spot Mary Mags. She’s kind of like Where’s Waldo, except I’ll bet she was wearing a toga.

The third area I’d like to address is the social culture in which Mary found herself.

For us women today, it is rather difficult to imagine the conditions for women in 1st century Palestine. All of us are now on the other side of women’s liberation and the feminist movement (for better or worse!). Things that are normal to us today (like women having a platform from which to speak) would have meant social ostracism or worse in Mary’s time. The closest parallel I could think of would be how women in the Middle East are treated today, made to cover every part of themselves, treated as property, dismissed at the slightest infraction of their social laws.

Here are a few examples of the extreme limitations placed on 1st century women.

From Ehrman: “According to the standard stereotype, Jewish women were especially oppressed during the first century, forced to be silent and stay in the home, unable to enter into the public sphere, expected to devote themselves to cooking, cleaning, making and mending clothes, and raising children. Jesus, however, came to liberate women and so accepted them.”

Jewish sayings suggested that:  “So long as a man talks too much with a woman, he (1) brings trouble on himself, (2) wastes time better spent on studying Torah, and (3) ends up an heir of Gehenna.” (Yose ben Yochanan)

“A man could divorce a woman and not have to make payment due to her under the marriage contract if: “she (1) goes out with her hair flowing loose, (2) spins in the marketplace, or (3) talks with just anybody.” !!!!

“Women were first and foremost considered to be the property of a man. They were typically excluded from any formal education, although some rabbis ignored the tradition and taught their daughters in private. Men and women ate separately, as conversations between the sexes were highly discouraged. The presence of women travelling with men was completely unprecedented. Counter to rabbinic tradition, Jesus freely associates with women. Jesus’s ministry clearly transcends the limitations placed on women by the Jewish culture.” (From Ehrman in Priscilla Papers)

Despite the fact that women were generally oppressed by the men in society, they were still actively involved in the society. This may explain why they were often hushed or told to be quiet and why some of them were wealthy! They were thought to have inferior beliefs and to be ignorant on spiritual matters. Part of this was because they were not allowed to be taught the Scriptures like all the Jewish boys were. So of course they were ignorant! No one took the time to teach them. Until Jesus.

Don’t you just love Him? ❤ ❤ 🙂

We’ve gone over what the Scriptures tell us about Mary, what tradition has gotten wrong about her, and what the culture was like for her.

So the question is why was Mary (and the other women) so enthralled with Jesus and His message?

Jesus believed His chief followers were to be men, the 12 disciples. In addition, the Kingdom of God was not set up to be an egalitarian society where everyone had equal say or was on an equal level. He assumed there would be rulers in His kingdom just as there always had been for God’s people. These rulers would be the 12 apostles (and you can find the reference in Matt. 19:28 and Luke 22:28-30). (From Ehrman) So why were these women leaving their homes and following Him, even supporting Him, in His ministry?

Our clue is in what Jesus says about His kingdom. Think about the Sermon on the Mount. Who inherits the Kingdom of heaven? Those who are persecuted. Those who are Poor. (Matt. 5:10; Luke 6:20) Who does it belong to? Children. (Mk 10:14) Who may enter? Prostitutes and Tax Collectors. (Matt 21:31) Jesus ushers in a radical reversal of fortunes.

The message was simply this: “The end was coming soon, and they would in the very near future be exalted to places of prominence in God’s kingdom, where all those who were downtrodden and oppressed would enjoy the pleasures of God’s presence in a world in which there would no longer be any poverty, injustice, or social ostracism.” (Ehrman)

The women were not the only ones who followed Jesus, obviously! There was quite the mixture, in fact, and most of the people were lower class citizens and those who were not involved in the highly “spiritual” Jewish leadership. So in other words, the outcasts, the sinners, and the uneducated. NOT the super spiritual. And so Jesus’ message about God’s kingdom and the Messiah who would be the champion for the down and out was attractive to all of these people! Jesus became the knight in shining armor for Mary and the other women.

They were restricted in their movements and interactions. In the roles they could play in their families, in religious societies, and political worlds. Yes, there were exceptions, but for the most part, a woman with ambition, especially from the lower classes, had nowhere to go. (From Ehrman) The appeal of Jesus was in His teaching of the kingdom of heaven being a place in which God would raise up the humble and vindicate the oppressed.

The second reason why I believe Mary and these women were drawn to Jesus’ message involved how one should live as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. I love how Ehrman describes it:

“Life in the future Kingdom will reflect God’s own values, such as love, justice, and freedom. These values should be reflected in how the followers of Jesus live in the present. In the future kingdom there will be no hatred, and so Jesus’ followers should love one another now. In the future kingdom there will be no loneliness, and so Jesus’ followers should visit the widows and orphans now. In the future kingdom there will be no poverty, and so Jesus’ followers should sell their possessions and give to the poor now. In the future kingdom there will be no hunger, and so Jesus’ followers should feed the hungry now. In the future kingdom there will be no sickness, and so Jesus’ followers should heal the sick now. In the future kingdom there will be no demons, and so Jesus’ followers should cast out demons now. In the future kingdom there will be no war, and so Jesus’ followers should work for peace now. In the future kingdom there will be no injustice, and so Jesus’ followers should fight injustice now.”

For these women to catch sight of their future freedom in God’s kingdom meant hope for them in their present situations. Christ ushered in the kingdom of God when He came, so that it was both present and future. What is more, Jesus would change the climate as His teachings rippled out from the work of His devout followers, making the future kingdom of freedom a present reality.

Karen Thiessen summarizes the revolutionary way Jesus reached out to women:

“John,…portrays women as active, innovative ministers of the Kingdom . . . Jesus affirms them in roles that were unusual and often unacceptable within that culture.  Jesus’s approach to women was in such contrast to that of his culture that we can assume a deliberate modeling of a new way of relating to women. Jesus taught women and allowed them to participate in theological discussions. Jesus allowed women to travel with him and participate fully in his ministry as disciples, ultimately commissioning them as witnesses of his resurrection. Women were acknowledged by Jesus for their examples of servanthood, and Jesus affirmed their place in the kingdom as equal participants. Furthermore, without being demeaning or judgmental, he ministered compassionately to the needs of women. He treated men and women alike with respect to their shortcomings and encouraged them equally in their faith.” [From They Had Followed Him from Galilee: The Female Disciples (Priscilla Papers)]

Again, we have no way of knowing why our Mary of Magdala followed Jesus because she doesn’t tell us!

Being freed from the darkness of demon possession would likely be enough for anyone to want to follow Jesus! Amen?!

While the historical background can give us clues as to how it might have been for Mary, The only thing we can know for certain is that she was an early follower and devout all the way from His early ministry to His resurrection (and thereafter!).

Here are some final thoughts as we wrap up our study: 

Oh to have walked with Jesus! What did Mary Magdalene see?

Though she probably wasn’t with the 12 when Jesus met the woman at the well, did her heart skip a beat when she heard about this woman, knowing that Jesus had also set her heart free?

Did she ask Jesus to tell her the story about the widow of Nain, because its stories like this that never get old?

Or of the story about the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet? Or the one about the woman who touched Him? There were just so many of these stories! All about women!

Was she there for the many times in which Jesus cast out demons? Did it remind her of the 7 tormentors who departed from her body at His command?

Did she look at the Syrophoenician woman with compassion, knowing how it felt to be possessed by demons, and as she cast her gaze to Jesus, did she smile, knowing He was about to perform the very same miracle in their lives that He had done in her’s?

Did she often think to herself I just cannot believe THIS is my life!

Did she witness the multiplying of the bread to feed the multitudes? Did she laugh at the irony of the 12 picking up the “leftovers”, knowing He would supply their needs? Was she aware that He came to give them spiritual food and spiritual life?

Was she listening to the parable of the good Samaritan? Did she feel a kinship with this one, another outcast in the Jewish society? Was she beaming with pride in her Savior as she listened to Him change the social norms, knowing that He gave dignity to all people? Even to her?

Did she immediately become friends with Mary? Or Martha? Was she caught off guard when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, or because maybe she’d seen this happen before, did she simply shake her head in wonder and joy? Did she watch Mary anoint Jesus with oil and think of the sinful woman who had done the same thing?

How many times did she long to hear Him teach on the kingdom of heaven? To hear of the future restoration? To hear Him speak hope into their lives?

What did she think as Jesus entered Jerusalem for His final week? Did she get caught up in all the pomp? Had she remembered that He’d been predicting His own death and was she confused as to how the atmosphere could possibly turn bad for Him? Did it start to make sense as He cleansed the temple? Did she suddenly remember all those times His words inflamed the hatred of the religious leaders who now sought to kill Him?

What about when He broke the bread in the upper room? Was she there? Did she have a flashback to the time He multiplied the bread? Could she have known that Jesus had to die and be raised to usher in the kingdom? That He was the Bread of Life, broken for her? The blood poured out for her?

Did she stare at His lifeless body on the cross, wondering where it all went wrong? Was she too numb to speak? Did she still have hope or did it die on the cross too?

As she took the spices, did the thought occur to her that He might not be there? Did her mind race to find answers when she discovered the tomb was empty? As she sat by the tomb was she able to process any of the events leading up to this point?

 

 

When she heard His voice call her name, did all that His words come flooding back? Did she have a hard time getting the words out because she was too excited? Did she break down in tears when she realized that SHE was the one He appeared to first?

At the tomb, Jesus calls Mary by name and THIS is when she recognizes Him. “My sheep hear my voice. I call to them and they answer Me.”

Nowhere in the gospels is there an explanation of Mary’s healing from the demon possession. The only time she is named is in connection with the women who followed Jesus during His ministry, during and after the crucifixion, and finally at the empty tomb. Isn’t it interesting that the thing that she is remembered for is her devotion to Christ? Not the demon possession?

Jesus gave her dignity. She would not be cast out because of the evil that had once been a part of her. He saw her value and gave her value all at the same time. Her life before Christ was one doomed to wander the streets as a mad woman, an outcast by her people and a prisoner to the demonic.

Jesus saved her, gave her a purpose, and made her a prominent woman in society. By her testimony many would hear of Jesus’ resurrection. I’m not sure what is more profound for her. To be a member of His ministry or to be the one to deliver the most important news for Christianity. He is Messiah! He is Risen! Her life was spent on this One man who changed EVERYTHING.

I love that we ended on the account of Jesus’ resurrection! Jesus deals death its final blow and that enemy is vanquished! How appropriate that we should go out from here, celebrating the good news of Jesus Christ!

It is good news for the heart that follows.

For the heart that thirsts. (The woman at the well ~ John 4)

The heart that mourns. (The widow of Nain ~ Luke 7)

The heart forgiven. (The sinful woman ~ Luke 7)

The heart healed. (The woman who touched Jesus’ cloak ~ Luke 8)

The heart that is desperate. (The Syrophoenician woman ~ Mark 7, Matthew 15)

The heart that learns. (Mary of Bethany ~ Luke 10, John 11-12)

The heart distracted. (Martha of Bethany ~ Luke 10, John 11-12)

And for the heart set free. (Mary of Magdala ~ Luke 8, Mark 15, John 20)

I can imagine you have identified with at least ONE of these women if not all of them at some point in your life. Let us go out to the tune of Mary’s song:

“My chains are gone
I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, amazing grace.”

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Mary of Magdala: A Heart Set Free

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We have walked with these women and Jesus, finding out about His love for them, watching Him perform miracles in their lives, and seeing their response to Him. We have heard time and again that Jesus gives dignity to women, and Mary’s life is one of the best examples of this!

What do we know about Mary?

When I first started researching Mary this summer, I thought I would have nothing to write because there’s so little written about her. Boy was I wrong!

Mary was a Jewish woman living in the region of Galilee in a city named Magdala.

71_Map_F_galilean_third_tour

It was located on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Josephus, a Jewish historian during the 1st century, wrote about Magdala as being a fairly good-sized city (larger than Nazareth) surrounded by a large wall . It had grain markets, major aqueducts, a theater, and a hippodrome for races.

excavation of Magdala

excavations done by Magdala Project

(Visit www.magdalacenterarchaeology.com to view more findings!)

Magdala hippodromeexample of ancient hippodrome (not in Magdala)

city of magdala

It was best known for it’s fishing industry and large tower. In fact, the word for tower in Aramaic was “magdala”. (From Bart Ehrman) [Also to note, Ehrman writes that Josephus tended to exaggerate about certain things. It’s probably unlikely that this small area actually had a hippodrome!]

The first time we hear about Mary meeting Jesus is with a group of women in the region of Galilee (close to the end of Jesus’ 2nd year of ministry).

Luke 8:1-3

Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone outand Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.

When Mary is listed among the women disciples, she is not associated with a family member like Joanna the wife of Chuza. While we don’t know for sure, this may be because she was unmarried or a widow. She was however associated with her town.

Mary Magdalene only occurs in 4 scenes in the gospels. This one here with the women disciples, then at the cross, at the tomb when Jesus’ dead body is laid in it, and finally at the empty tomb 3 days later.

As Luke says here, Mary and the other women provided for Jesus’ ministry out of their resources. With the exception of Joanna, we aren’t given the information as to how they had so much money, whether or not they worked or were born into wealth, but we know they helped Jesus.

From Ehrman: “Mary and her female companions were the ones, or were among the ones, who [supported Jesus’ ministry]. We don’t have any indication where they themselves received an income. Possibly these women just happened to be wealthy, that is, that they came from wealthy families and/or married into money. That appears to be the case with one of the other women named by Luke: Joanna, who was married to Chuza, King Herod’s personal steward (Luke 8:3). What Chuza thought about his wife giving his money away to an itinerant Jewish prophet and his unemployed followers is anyone’s guess.”

So as we try to picture Mary in our mind’s eye, instead of picturing Mary like this:

bad mary mag

 [Note: Be careful searching “Mary Magdalene” in Google images. Most pictures are completely inappropriate!]

I want you to think of her like this:

mary mag

Obviously we have NO idea what she could have looked like. But here, she looks strong and fierce, with those piercing eyes.

What I love about this whole scenario is simply that women were a part of Jesus’ ministry! We know from reading the Bible that Jesus had 12 disciples, and we also know that many other “disciples” or “followers” went along with Him as He traveled around the region of Galilee. We now know that many of those “followers” were women!

My article about Mary of Bethany really sets us up to better understand Mary Magdalene. You recall that Jesus allowed for women to become disciples, something which Jewish tradition prohibited and discouraged.

I read through several books and articles about Mary of Magdala as I did my research. One resource by Jacqueline Lloyd The Women Who Followed Jesus details information about Jesus and the women disciples:

“In a detailed study of the use of mathetes in the Gospels, Meier argues that discipleship in the Jesus movement included the following traits or criteria: Jesus took the initiative in calling disciples; the disciples physically left home to journey with him; and the act of following Jesus entailed certain risks. Carla Ricci,…observes certain “elements” that make up what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. These include calling, travelling, separation from family circle and previous activities, service, being recipients of special teaching, receiving a call to proclaim, witnessing, and sharing Jesus’ life and fate even in suffering.”

Another scholar named Meier says this:

“[these women would not have] undertaken the unusual, not to say scandalous, step of following Jesus… without Jesus’ summons beforehand or at least his clear assent after the fact. Such devoted, long-term following is inexplicable without Jesus’ initiative or at least his active acceptance of and cooperation with the women who sought to follow him.” (Lloyd)

In other words, Jesus fully intended for these women to have the same basic privilege of becoming His disciples even though the religious leaders disapproved. And Mary Mags (as I like to call her; she’s rather like a sister to me now) was one of those who left her home to follow in the dust of her Rabbi.

As we are answering the question about who Mary is, the one other detail about her that we find in Luke is that she had 7 demons cast out of her. And in Mark 16:9, the gospel writer tells us that it was Jesus who cast those demons out of her. Now keeping in mind what we’ve learned about demon possession in previous lessons, this article details what it might have been like for Mary:

mary-magdalene1

“We do not know how long or in what way she was tormented by demon possession. We do know that any possessed person was an outcast from normal society. Some afflicted people were more animal than human, living in caves, roving around the countryside terrifying people with their distorted faces and wild eyes. Created by God, they were being destroyed by Satan. What it meant for Mary to be possessed by seven demons we cannot guess. But for her, deliverance must have been a life-changing liberation. Her bound spirit was set free. Her cramped limbs relaxed. Her contorted face became serene.” (From Precept Austin.org)

Elizabeth Julian in The Mary Merger asks the question:

“What were her “seven demons” then? New Testament scholarship would say physical illness. As Barbara Reid explains, Luke’s use of the number “seven” – the symbolic number for fullness or completeness – was to highlight the seriousness of Mary’s illness and the extent of her cure.”

Whether there were literally 7 demons or that the number represented the seriousness of her possession is not important. What is important is that Jesus rescued her from an obviously horrific life situation. What devotion she must have felt for Jesus, the One who had freed her from the torment of demons.

Then as we turn the pages in our Bibles, we must keep turning and keep turning until we come nearly to the end of the gospel before we reach another word about Mary. Not once is Mary named between this account in Luke and the crucifixion. However, I don’t want you to think that means Mary was absent during Jesus’ tours in Galilee and down in Judea. It is very likely she was with Him throughout the entirety of His ministry after meeting Him for the first time.

Our next passage is found in Mark 15:33-41 (vs. 40-41)

33 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” 36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

40 There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.

What I want you to see in this scene is simply this — Mary had followed Jesus, along with many other women, even to the cross. Though the 12 disciples scattered, Mary remained!

 

Continuing on in Mark 15:42-47

42 And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. 45 And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph.46 And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.

I love that Mark gives us this detail! Mary Magdalene was with Him on the dusty roads, she was with Him at the cross, and she was with Him at the tomb. Sounds like a pretty strong eye witness if you ask me!

Finally we see Mary return to the tomb in John 20:1-2, 10

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.

Mary is obviously distraught at the thought of Jesus’ disappearance, and likely assumes it was some man or the Jewish authorities who’ve taken Him. Notice she says, WE do not know where they laid Him. If you read the other gospel accounts, you will find the writers mention the presence of other women with Mary, though John writes only of Mary Magdalene. I believe he emphasizes Mary because of her later encounter with Jesus.

John 20:11-18

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

mary-magdalene-clings-to-jesus

For Jesus to visit Mary first BEFORE ANYONE ELSE is startling! If you had never read the gospels and you were reading about when Jesus was going to reveal Himself to His disciples post resurrection, you would likely assume that He would go first to one of the 3 in the inner circle – namely, Peter, James, or John. Or perhaps you might think He’d go first to His mother. But no, He tells Mary Magdalene, just another face in the crowd. But she was not just another face to Jesus. It was by her mouth that the message of His resurrection would go to the disciples!

And isn’t it interesting that the angels don’t appear to Peter and John? But only to Mary? This message was meant for her eyes only. Some scholars believe the angels appeared to reveal that Jesus was not missing at the hands of men BUT BY THE HAND OF GOD! 

Josephus wrote in his book Antiquities that “the testimony of women is not accepted as valid because of the lightheadedness and brashness of the female sex.” (From Thiessen)

HOWEVER, Thiessen writes, “Jesus entrusted a woman with the most crucial message of His triumph over death.” !!

Some have speculated that the gospel writers highlighted Mary as a way to defend the truth of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. The fact that Mary were present at the crucifixion, seeing first-hand what happened to Him, then was there when He was laid in the tomb, and then later was the one who saw the risen Christ, lends credence to the testimony of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It would mean that the disciples were not just making up a fanciful story about Jesus but rather received the message from these women who would then be able to influence other’s concerning what they had seen and heard. I believe God never makes mistakes, so it is not by coincidence or mistake that He chooses Mary Magdalene to be His mouthpiece concerning the resurrection of His Son. This is why Augustine, a theologian in the 4th and 5th century, gave her an honorific title “Apostle to the apostles.”

Another scholar named Bart Ehrman makes a great point here:

“The salvation that Jesus brings is not recognized by the high and the mighty, by the Pilates and Caiaphases and Sanhedrins of this world. It is a salvation that involves a complete reversal of the values and priorities of this world. It is a glory that comes in the form of suffering, a salvation that comes through pain. It is a salvation in which slaves will exult over masters, the oppressed over the powerful, the dispossessed over the mighty, a salvation where the last shall be first and the first last. And who observes this salvation? Not witnesses who are thought to be credible to this world, not the future bishops of the powerful churches of Christendom, but a group of lowly women.”

There are some who might discount the testimony of Mary, and even the 12 disciples did not truly believe her, but Christ chose her anyway!

I love how Spurgeon writes about the reason for Christ choosing Mary to be His witness:

“[The reason] she should be selected as the first one to be seen by Christ is because she had been a special trophy of Christ’s delivering power. In her, He had won a special and signal victory over the hosts of hell—a perfect number of those evil spirits had been entrenched within her, and Christ’s victorious arm had driven them all out. She would always be regarded as a most illustrious specimen of what the great Savior can achieve. In this sense, I say, she was fitted to be the first that Jesus Christ should look upon and speak to, because out of all His disciples who were daily with Him, I know not of one who had experienced such a cure as that which had fallen to her lot.”

If you really want to drive home a message to Your enemy, send someone who had once been held in the clutches of the enemy! He chose her to further mock the powers of darkness, adding salt to their gaping wounds!

There is so little mentioned about her that Mary nearly fades into the background, and I think she would have wanted it this way. This story was not to revolve around her but was to be centered on the Messiah, her Savior.

One final thought concerning this passage relates to the issue of Mary holding on to Jesus. Many people question the reason for Jesus telling Mary not to cling to Him. The phrase in the Greek is in the present imperative (of the word hapto) and should be translated “do not continue touching Me.”

Some say He meant for her not to literally touch Him because He’s so holy, but this theory falls flat when Jesus allows and requests Thomas to touch His hands later. Still others claim that maybe Jesus didn’t really say “do not hold on to me” and that a scribe misread it and it should have meant “do not fear”. Ridiculous. There’s no evidence for this!

The best explanation I read was that Jesus wanted Mary to know that His relationship to them would be different now because He would be returning to the Father and sending the Holy Spirit to be with them.

Gary Burge (NIVAC on John) writes, “Mary is thinking that the resurrection of Jesus is Jesus’ resumption of normal relations with His disciples…. Mary is trying to hold on to the joy she now discovers in her resurrected Lord. In telling her not to hold on, Jesus is saying that His permanent ‘return’ and presence must come in another form. She cannot embrace what she finds in the garden. Things are going to change. Jesus’ correction is a spiritual redirection away from Jesus’ physical presence, a preparation for the Spirit that is about to be given….Jesus underscores this change in relationship by pointing to His departure ‘for I have not yet returned to the Father.’”

One might speculate that Mary, who was following the Jewish custom of anointing the dead body after death, was the most important figure in spreading the initial truth of the gospel! HE is risen!

{Stay tuned for Part 2 of Mary Magdalene!!}