Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Prostitutes Can Be Saints

Mel C as Mary Magdalene in a stage production of Jesus Christ Superstar

 A prostitute possessed by seven demons is not exactly saint material. But thankfully for all of us, Jesus isn’t picky about who He chooses to sanctify.

Today is the Feast Day of St. Mary Magdalene, who was, according to tradition, a streetwalker who was dominated by seven devils. There is very little information about her in the Bible, but we do know that Jesus Himself healed her of her demonic possession and that she followed Him faithfully ever after, right to the foot of the Cross. She was also the first person Jesus appeared to after His resurrection and the messenger that brought the joyous news of Jesus’ defeat of death to the apostles. 

Mary Magdalene is also known as "The Penitent Saint."

Mary Magdalene must have had a very intimate relationship with Jesus. We are not told how she first encountered Him or the circumstances surrounding her conversion, but we do know that she was Jesus’ closest female friend besides His Holy Mother. Tradition tells us that she washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her long beautiful hair as a sign of sorrow for her past sinful life (there are two versions of this story, one in Luke 7 and John 12). We are told that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister Mary” (John 11:5) and that He was the first person they contacted when their brother Lazarus became sick. Jesus also defends Mary when she is sitting at His feet listening to Him preach (Luke 10:41) and Martha complains that she is stuck doing all the housework (ah, sisters never change). 

"Lord, tell my sister to help me!"

Mary Magdalene was obviously captivated by Jesus: she loved listening to Him speak, being close to Him, and following Him right until the bitter end. She was one of the “invisible” disciples that shadowed Him everywhere. It must have been extremely difficult to give up a life of power, possessions, vanity, and sexual pleasure, but she did, and remained a chaste virgin until the end of her life. “Your many sins have been forgiven you because you have loved much” (Luke 7:47).

Jesus chose Mary Magdalene to be his closest female friend in order to show us how our past sins mean nothing in the light of His powerful mercy and forgiveness. He gave Mary the utmost privilege of being close to Him for most of His 3 years of earthly ministry, as well as the honor of comforting Him by her presence as He hung dying on the cross. 

Imagine that first Easter morning when Mary came to the tomb, probably to talk to her beloved Savior and pour out her anguish, confusion, and frustration at His untimely and horrific death. But the worst has happened—the tomb has been raided, the body of her beloved Master has been stolen to add ultimate insult to injury. Bewildered and despairing, she begins to weep until a man she assumes must be the gardener approaches her and asks why she is crying. “They have taken my Lord from the tomb, and I don’t know where they’ve put Him!” she wails. “Sir, if you have taken Him, tell me where you have put Him and I will come and fetch Him away.” Mary decides that she must take matters into her own hands: if this person has stolen the body of her Dear Teacher, she’s going to fight him tooth and nail to get Him back. But the man simply says “Mary,” just like Jesus had spoken her name so many times, and Mary realizes with a cry of wonder and delight that it really is Jesus, her Savior, her Master, and that He has come back for her. Who could ask for a better Prince Charming story?

Naturally, Mary rushes forward to embrace Jesus. But this is the odd part that has always confused me, for Jesus tells her “Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father.” Other translations say “Stop holding on to me” or “Do not cling to me,” but the meaning is still the same—Jesus is telling her to keep her distance. This seems cruel to me; after all, if I were Mary, I would have wanted to smoosh Jesus into the ground with an attack hug. I wonder if she was startled and hurt by that statement. But perhaps Jesus was testing her faith at this moment; I am sure He looked into her eyes with an expression of great love and tenderness, assuring her that He was indeed alive and that He was grateful for her final perseverance. 

We never hear about any interactions between Mary and Jesus again after this, and it is not mentioned whether Mary is present at the Ascension or at Pentecost. But we do know that she eventually traveled to France, where she died and where her relics are now preserved in a sacred crypt.

Sadly, there have been lots of rumors flying around on the internet and elsewhere that have poisoned Mary Magdalene’s (now) good name. The DaVinci Code claims that Jesus and Mary had an affair that produced a child, and movies like The Last Temptation of Christ and Life of Bryan have portrayed their relationship as a passionate sexual rampage. This is a tragic heresy and there are loads of evidence to disprove it (check out The DaVinci Hoax by Carl Olson). Although I’m sure Mary might have had a crush on Jesus at the beginning of their relationship (and seriously, who wouldn’t?), the Church has confirmed that their relationship was strictly platonic. 

The film The Passion of the Christ portrays Mary Magdalene as the woman Jesus saves from being stoned for adultery

St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us!


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