Thursday, July 26, 2012

Misidentified Mary

Mary Magdelene is one of the most misinterpreted individuals in Scripture. She’s been called a prostitute, and she’s been confused with the woman who shed tears on Jesus’ feet.   I can understand the confusion…..there were several Marys and through the ages women took a backseat role where the church was concerned, however, the importance of Mary of Magdalene in the ministry of Jesus….especially during those last days cannot be discounted or swept away, but folks sure do get confused regarding who she was.

Here are some facts to ponder.

Mary’s entire name denotes her hometown.  She was Mary from Magdelene, and who could blame Jesus for calling her this.   There WERE several Mary’s milling about at the time, right?

Magdalene was a town many historians term as wealthy.  People living there mainly worked in agriculture, fishing, in shipbuilding or in trade.   The town was located on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.   The Talmud states that Magdalene was a short distance of three miles from Tiberias, and the name in Greek means tower and fortress in Aramaic.

Mary Magdalene by Bernardio Luini...notice the alabaster jar that shouldn't be there.

The Bible relates how Jesus drove seven demons from Mary Magdalene. 

Seven!   Can you imagine?

Of course when you and I think of demons we think of lizard like creatures erupting from someone’s torso as in the Alien movies, but actually the New Testament presents demon-possession as someone diseased or victim to an alien and evil power.  The person was not an accomplice of it. 

As to the number of demons there are those that interpret the number seven to mean completeness…and those that say the number indicates the severity of Mary’s problem, but the cause is never disclosed.

Whatever Mary’s ailment she became healed and was not a social derelict.  There is no evidence to refute that her malady was a phyisical illness of which she was healed. 

In some circles Mary has a bad reputation.   Some people hold her on the same level as Mary the Sinner and she has been identified as the penitent woman who anointed Jesus. 

But there were two anointing were there not?   Two anointing performed by two different women.  Matthew and Mark both tell the story that occurred at Bethany where Jesus’ head was anointed at the home of Simon the Leper by the unidentified woman……Matthew 26: 6-13 and Mark 14: 3-9.

John discusses Bethany as well stating that Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume….John 12: 1-3.

Luke, however, told of Jesus dining at the home of the Pharisee when an unidentified woman who had lived a sinful life wet his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.  She then poured expensive perfume on them….Luke 7: 37-38.

There are theories connecting Mary of Magdalene to these anointing, but they are just that…..theories.

Going all the way back to the first Christian century, folks have been falsely identifying the unknown woman in Luke’s account with Mary Magdalene.   Luke only identified her in a list of women who helped support Jesus and the disciples out of their own money…..Luke 8:2-3.

Mary of Magdalene by Frederick Sandys 1858-60

There is nothing in the Biblical text to connect Mary Magdalene with the woman in the preceding story involving the unknown woman who anointed Jesus’ feet.   Luke actually provides a formal introduction of Mary in 8:2, and it shows no indication she had already been introduced in 7:36-50.     

I believe firmly that the unknown woman referred to as “a sinner” in Luke 7:37 and Mary with “seven demons” in Luke 8:2 are two entirely different women.

What we do know for sure John describes Mary of Magdalene as a woman of means who used her money to support the ministry of Jesus.  After the Galilean ministry she and other women  went along with Jesus to Jerusalem during that last week of His earthly ministry and was there for His crucifixion and His resurrection.

Mary of Magdalene never turned away from Jesus as other did in those last hours.  She bravely stood at the cross and witnessed everything.   This was a dangerous thing to do, but she did it.  It needs to be remembered that most of the male followers turned away and deserted Jesus…..but many of the women were self-appointed watchers and were faithful to the end.  

When Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus made the request for the body of Jesus and buried him in the tomb it was Mary of Magdalene who watched and observed the location.   After the Sabbath had passed it was Mary of Magdalene who planned to return to the tomb to properly prepare Jesus’ body for permanent burial with spices.

It is not by chance that all of the Synoptic gospels mention that Mary along with some other women went early to the tomb that Sunday morning.  Only John stated that it was still dark and made no mention of the other women.   When Mary of Magdalene saw the stone had been rolled away she ran to tell Peter and John. 

After the men visited the tomb and found it empty they were confused, but returned home.  It was then that the two angels appeared to Mary.   Jesus approached and made His first resurrection appearance to Mary but she mistook Him for the gardener until He spoke her name.

Mary then gave the very first confession of faith in the risen Lord when she said “Rabboni” in Aramaic.

I sincerely don’t believe it just happened that a woman was the first to do so.
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