Women of the Bible - Monday, December 2, 2013

Mary Magdalene

Her name means: "Bitterness"

Her character: Though mistakenly characterized as a prostitute in many popular writings, the Bible says only that Mary was possessed by seven demons. She probably suffered a serious mental or physical illness from which Jesus delivered her. She is a beautiful example of a woman whose life was poured out in response to God's extravagant grace.
Her sorrow: To watch Jesus' agony at Calvary.
Her joy: To have been the first witness to Jesus' resurrection.
Key Scriptures: Matthew 27:56, 61; 28:1; Mark 15:40, 47; 16:1-19; Luke 8:2; 24:10; John 19:25; 20:1-18

Her Story

She made her way through the shadows to the garden tomb, grateful for the darkness that shrouded her tears. How, she wondered, could the world go on as though nothing at all had happened? How could the mountains keep from crashing down, the sky resist falling? Had everyone but her lost their minds? Had no one noticed that the world had collapsed two days ago?

For the past three years she had followed the rabbi across Galilee and Judea, providing for him out of her own small purse. She had loved his hearty laughter and the smile that flashed across his face whenever he saw her. Wherever they went, she felt privileged to tell her story, grateful to be among his growing band of followers.

She had grown up in Magdala, a prosperous town on the west bank of the Sea of Galilee. But she had not prospered. How could a woman thrive when she was filled with demons who controlled her mind? Though she had begged for mercy, no mercy had been given. Instead, her delusions locked her in a nightmare world, isolating her even from small pleasures and simple kindnesses.

But then Jesus had come. Like no rabbi she had ever encountered, he seemed neither afraid nor repulsed by her illness. "Mary," he had called to her, as though he had known her all her life. Despite the heat, she shivered as he drew near, her stomach suddenly queasy. Though she backed away, she could feel a great light advancing toward her, forcing the darkness away. Suddenly her familiar companions were themselves begging mercy, but no mercy was given.

Mary Magdalene, a woman possessed by seven demons, was restored to her right mind, her bondage a thing of the past. Eyes that had once been holes swallowing the light now shone like pools reflecting the sun.

Since then, everyone in Magdala had marveled at the change in her. How could Mary not love such a man? How could she not want to do everything for him? She thought she was living in heaven—to be close to Jesus; to witness healing after healing; to be stirred, surprised, and refreshed by his teaching. This, indeed, was joy to a woman unaccustomed to joy.

But Jesus had his share of enemies, she knew. Religious leaders in Jerusalem had been stung by his truth-telling, offended by his galling lack of diplomacy. Still, every trap they laid for him had failed … until now.

How suddenly they had struck, even though Jerusalem was crowded with pilgrims for Passover. The temple guard had arrested him at night and then turned him over to Roman authorities, who mocked and whipped him nearly to death. The rabbi from Galilee, who had promised the poor in spirit they would surely inherit the kingdom of heaven, was now in chains. His hunger and thirst for righteousness had left him not full, but empty and broken. Unblessed, he had become a curse, his body hanging naked on a Roman cross.

Mary had done her best to fight off the shadows that crowded near again as she waited through the awful hours of his agony, unable to look at the spectacle before her, yet unable to turn away. Whatever his suffering, she needed to be near him.

When it was over, she had watched Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea unfasten his body from the cross. Gently they had wrapped him in myrrh and aloe, enough for a king's burial. Finally, as the stone rolled across the tomb, sealing it shut, she had turned away.

After the Sabbath was over, on the next day, Mary purchased yet more spices. Before the sun came up on Sunday, she approached the tomb. How on earth, she wondered, could she roll away the massive stone? But, to her surprise, the mouth of tomb lay wide open. Strips of linen were lying on the floor and the burial cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus' head was folded up by itself. What had they done with his body? she wondered. To be cheated of this last chance of touching him and caring for him was more than she could bear.

She stood outside the tomb weeping. Then, bending over, she looked inside. Two creatures in white sat on the stony shelf where the body had been laid. "Woman, why are you crying?" they asked.

"They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him." Then she turned and saw a man studying her.

"Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?"

Mistaking him for the gardener, she pleaded, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him."

"Mary," he said.

Startled, she cried out, "Rabboni" (meaning Teacher).

By now the sun had risen. With it fled the darkness that had pursued her ever since she had heard the news of his arrest. Jesus, the one who had raised her from a living death, had himself risen from the dead.

Mary fell to the ground in awe, remembering the words of the prophet Isaiah: "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." The garden that had so recently been a place of shadows and gloom now seemed green and bright, as though paradise itself had broken through.

The risen Jesus had appeared, not to rulers and kings, nor even first of all to his male disciples, but to a woman whose love had held her at the cross and led her to the grave. Mary Magdalene, a person who had been afflicted by demons, whose testimony would not have held up in court because she was a woman, was the first witness of the resurrection. Once again, God had revealed himself to the lowly, and it would only be the humble whose hearing was sharp enough to perceive the message of his love.

Her Promise

Jesus not only knew Mary's name, he knew everything about her. He remembered the day he had cast the demons out of her. He remembered her many practical kindnesses. He saw how she suffered with him as she watched him die on the cross.

Just as Jesus knew the intimate details of Mary's life, he knows about you. When you are tempted to lose hope, when life seems too empty to go on, when grief overwhelms you—Jesus cares. When those you love have let you down, when you think you can't go on for another minute, when your problems crush you—Jesus cares. He calls your name, just as he called Mary's. And you, too, can go on like the women who went from the tomb, perhaps still a bit afraid yet "filled with joy" (Matthew 28:8).

This devotional is drawn from Women of the Bible: A One-Year Devotional Study of Women in Scripture by Ann Spangler and Jean Syswerda. Used with permission.

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