Monday, July 22, 2013

Feast of St Mary Magdalene

Today is the feast of Mary Magdalene.

Mary was one of Jesus' disciples. We tend to think of Jesus having twelve, male disciples; but twelve was a symbolic number, full of meaning in relation to God constituting a people, creating community, and 'the Twelve' were a symbolic statement at the heart of a wider group, including several women.

Jesus' understanding of the call on his life was to bind up the broken-hearted and set the captive free. Mary had experienced this first-hand, when Jesus liberated her from the affliction of seven demons. Seven - like twelve - was a symbolic number: the number of perfection, totality, completion. 'Seven' demons probably shouldn't be thought of as 'more than six but less than eight,' but, rather, as indicating that her life was so thoroughly oppressed by the sheer cruelty of the satan (Accuser) and those spiritual beings in rebellion against God, impacting every sphere of her life - physical, mental, emotional - that no one else could set her free. This calls for caution: while demonic activity is clearly indicated, we should not assume that Mary was 'possessed,' or that her problems were the consequence of a 'sinful' life.

Having experienced Jesus' mission, Mary - along with other women - joined it, participating in and helping to finance the team (not 'the men get to play, and the women get to play a supporting role' but 'women get to play and to be stakeholders in the team'). She was there at the foot of the cross as Jesus died, abandoned by all but one of 'the Twelve.' And she was the first person Jesus appeared to, following his resurrection: the person he chose to entrust with telling the others that he had risen. The men accused her of talking nonsense.

The Early Church Fathers called Mary the Apostle to the Apostles, honouring her with recognition. A woman given the highest responsibility among those sent out by Jesus to multiply his life-work.

The Mediaeval Church painted Mary (quite literally, in religious art) in a different light: as the (barely) repentant (and barely covered) prostitute. There is no evidence for such an assertion to be found in the Gospel accounts; but the propaganda job was devastatingly comprehensive. The consequence was to objectify Mary: ironically, the woman who was set free from oppression by Jesus found herself oppressed by his Church - pin-up to lust over with a clear conscience...

In airbrushing out a woman fully involved in Jesus' life-work, the covenant relationship and kingdom role that opened for Mary was closed for other women: the best they could aspire to was pure virgin after Mary the mother of Jesus; the second-best, forgiven sinner after Mary M.

Mary's feast calls for a bitter-sweet menu. A day to remember before God all those misrepresented by the Church; a day to listen again to those whose claim to have experienced the risen Lord Jesus we dismiss, unwilling to believe it possible that Jesus has spoken to them what he has not spoken to us; a day to ask of ourselves whether we are participating in Jesus' mission to bind up the broken-hearted and set the captives free, or whether, ironically, we are binding-up what Jesus would set free. If the Church is to have anything to say to the world, we need our feasts, reminders of our own calling.

Mary Magdalene, pray for us.

(Why would an evangelical say such a thing? Because I take seriously our oneness with the cloud of witnesses who surround us, stand with us, inspire us, recall for us what we in our own struggles have forgotten, and yes, pray for us asking, how long O Lord?)

No comments:

Post a Comment