Her name was Mary of Magdala.
Magdala, the place of Mary’s birth, was a thriving community specializing in dye works and textile factories. It can be assumed that Mary was a person of success. The gospel of Luke lists her among women who were helping to support Jesus’ ministry out of their own means. (Luke 8:2-3)
Mary experienced, first hand, the healing powers of Jesus when he removed seven demons from her. Many theologians believe these demons were associated with mental illness. They could have been a cause of depression, anxiety, and a number of other afflictions many suffer from today. The bible doesn’t tell us what effect the demons had on Mary. Only that Jesus removed the demons plaguing Mary.
The Bible also never tells us Mary was a prostitute. (More on this later)
Altogether, Mary is mentioned in the bible a total of fourteen times. She is mentioned as a devoted follower of Christ. She was there when he healed others. She was there when he preached the good news of God’s love and grace and the coming of the kingdom. She was there when he ate and drank with the sinners. Mary was there to support the ministry of Jesus financially and with her unwavering devotion.
Mary would follow Jesus through the good times. The miracles and celebrations. And Mary would follow Jesus through times that were terrifying.
Mary would be among others to follow Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem. She would witness first hand, the arguments Jesus had with religious leaders of the time. Arguments over rules and technicalities. Arguments over status and conditions to earn God’s love. Arguments over the outcasts and the forgotten.
Mary and the followers of Jesus would learn about a new kind of faith. A faith that broke through barriers and opened doors for everyone. A faith that uplifted the status quo and changed the world forever.
Mary would have a front row seat to something she may not have experienced before. A new feeling of hope.
But the feeling of hope would not come without it’s challenges.
Not long after entering Jerusalem, a resistance began to form against Jesus.
Religious and political leaders would begin to work together in an attempt to silence the movement of Jesus and his followers. Tensions began to rise among those that did not care to hear this new message of hope.
Soon the tides of hatred and oppression would begin to grow. Mary would join Jesus and his followers in an upper room, hidden from those trying to persecute them and stop their ministry.
In that upper room, prayers were said, songs were sung, and a meal was shared by everyone in attendance. During the meal, Mary would listen as Jesus told about things that were about to happen.
She would hear Jesus say that his time has come and that he would not be with them much longer. She would hear Jesus tell them all that he would soon be killed and then rise again.
Mary would be present when, during the meal, Jesus would break bread and say “Take, eat; this is my body.” Followed by the passing of a cup of wine as Jesus would say, “Drink from it all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-29)
It may be safe to say that Mary, like the others would not fully comprehend the things being said by Jesus. But one thing we know for sure, is that Mary did not falter in her faith for the savior who shared the meal with her. For evidence of this, we only have to look a little further into the story.
Not long after the meal, Mary would witness soldiers coming in the night. She would see them grab Jesus and take him as a prisoner. Mary would also see the followers of Jesus flee into the night.
Mary would soon find herself in a crowd listening to a roman leader, condemning Jesus to crucifixion. An extremely painful and tortures way of killing someone. Mary would be there as they nailed Jesus to a cross and hoisted him up in the air. She would hear his cries of agony as the nails pierced through his hands and feet.
It may be safe to say that Mary felt great sadness. Great helplessness. Great hopelessness.
Mary would watch as Jesus bled. As he struggled to breath on the cross.
She would also see him quote scripture. She would hear him cry out to God.
She would also listen to Jesus comforting a convicted criminal on a cross next to him, assuring him that “Today you shall be with me in paradise.” (Luke 24:43)
She would hear Jesus say, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
Mary would see Jesus take his last breath and die on a cross. She would see the soldiers take him down from the cross to place him in a tomb.
Mary would spend the next day in anguish and grief. She would sit with Mary, the mother of Jesus and pray. It may be safe to say that Mary was, perhaps feeling lost at this time, and not very hopeful.
On the Sunday following Jesus’ death, Mary would take spices and oils, to anoint the body of Jesus. A practice done to honor the dead, but one that was forbidden on the day Jesus died, because it was the Sabbath. A holy day in which no such work could be done.
On approaching the tomb, Mary would be the first to discover that the tomb that held Jesus, was now empty. She would run from the tomb to tell Peter and another disciple, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
The disciples ran with Mary to the tomb to find it empty, with only strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head.
Mary stood outside the empty tomb, crying. As she wept, she was approached by a man asking why she was crying. Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Mary, while in grief, still wanted to care for Jesus.
As the man replied, “Mary.” She turned toward him and saw that it was Jesus.
He told her to Go tell the others, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary of Magdala went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20)
Mary was the first to see the empty tomb. She was the first to see Jesus, risen from the dead. And she was the first to be given instructions to tell others that Jesus Christ was alive. Mary was the first to share this message of hope with the world.
Jesus never did anything in his ministry without purpose. There was a reason why he picked Mary to be the first to see him and share his message. We can spend much time and speculate reasons why. Maybe it was because she stayed by Jesus’ side, even when others ran and hid. Maybe it was because she was a responsible and loyal follower of Jesus. The possibilities and theories can go on forever. It may be easier to just know that Mary was important to the mission of Jesus Christ, and she is important to the church.
In years that followed, the role of Mary would be met with challenges. It was challenging, as a woman, to even be believed in Mary’s time. The testimony of a female was often disregarded and not taken seriously.
Many would try to disregard Mary’s role in the story of Jesus. Some would try to discredit Mary by creating an image of disrespect. In 1324, the Roman Catholic church would fabricate a story that Mary was a prostitute. This remains a common belief to this day, even though there is no mention of this whatsoever in the bible.
But Mary was important. Mary was the first to spread the news of the risen Christ.
And Mary was the first to give us hope.
She was the first to disciple to the disciples.
She was the first to say the words, “I have seen the Lord!”
Mary’s faith, endurance and bravery are a wonderfully shining example of how we can be as Christians.
Do we have the faith to follow Jesus through the good times and celebrations?
Do we have the faith to follow Jesus through the difficulties and tragedies?
Do we have the endurance of Mary to stick with Jesus, and believe in the hope Christ brings us?
Are we brave enough to tell others of the good news of the risen Christ? Our savior and comforter.
Without Mary, we may not have the church.
Even when others have tried to discredit and silence, the story of Mary continues to this day.
And the word of Jesus Christ continues to this day.
Can we be like Mary and continue to tell others the good news?
Like Mary, can we celebrate the good news for ourselves, and know that Jesus loves us dearly?
Can we believe he stands beside us, even in our moments of tears?
Can we believe in hope?
Her name was Mary of Magdala.
And she started the movement of Christianity.