Friday, July 22, 2011

Mary Magdalene and Modern Women

Today, we celebrate the life of Mary Magdalene. Take a minute to read the New Testament reading for today: John 20:1-2, 11-18.  I wrote about Mary Magdalene and the early church here, where I also talk about reading the Easter story during the long season after Pentecost.

This week has been one of those hectic feeling weeks at work, where it seems to take the better part of a day to work through the deluge of e-mails.  It's been a week punctuated by people having crises, some of them legitimate, some of them manufactured drama.  It's exhausting.

When I think about Mary Magdalene, I don't think about the tales that have her as demon possessed.  I don't usually trust the ancient writers when it comes to their descriptions of emotional states.  When I was younger, I was taught that Mary Magdalene likely had mental illnesses, which ancient people would have explained as demon possession.  Feminist scholars taught me to wonder if the ancient church had a vested interest in stripping Mary of her story and her power.

After a hectic work week, I wonder what Mary has to teach us about pace and rushing and hurry, hurry, hurry.  It's Mary who stays behind to grieve, while the male disciples are running off to do whatever it is they feel compelled to do.  It's because she stays behind to rest and to grieve that she gets to be the first to see the risen Lord.

I think of Mary Magdalene and the ways her life was changed by her discipleship.  I wonder if she ever missed those demons or if she spent every day in deep awareness of how much worse her life could be and had been.  I wonder what happened to her once her brief time with Jesus was over. 

What do ancient women have to teach modern women?  Would we have anything to say to each other if we could sit down to share a meal?

I suspect we'd all be able to talk about the difficulty of leading a balanced life.  We'd talk about the demands that our families have.  Would ancient women wonder if they were living up to their full potential?  Would modern women from industrialized nations understand the precarious lives that ancient women faced?  Or do we all feel we're living precarious lives?

For Christians, the comfort of the Gospel is that our God took on human form and came down to dwell with us.   Our God understands all the difficulties of being human.  Our God got to see firsthand that life is precarious.

For Christian feminists, the comfort of the Gospel is that Jesus included all the dispossessed in his ministry.  Jesus spent a lot of time with women, and if you read the Gospel with compassionate eyes, you'll see that the women followers often seem to be much more stable.  They seem to understand the nature of Christ's mission much more quickly than the males do.

One of the lessons of Mary Magdalene might have to do with reputation and how the world might slander us for our faithfulness.  But we really can't worry about that.  The world will slander us for all sorts of reasons.  The story of Mary Magdalene reminds us that there are greater rewards than respect and a good reputation.

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