Monday, November 6, 2017

Mary of Magdala

Mary of Magdala was the first to witness the Resurrected Christ and sent by him to tell the others including Peter.  She came from Magdala, a place identified in the Jewish Talmud as Magdala Nunayya, “Magdala of the fishes.” This is a village north of Tiberias on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Like Peter, Andrew, James and John, Mary was called to leave a fishing village to accompany Jesus in his mission. She was first among the women who went to the tomb with myrrh to anoint the body of Jesus in preparation for his burial. For this reason, she is frequently depicted holding a vessel of myrrh.

The final chapter of Mark’s account of the Gospel contains two possible endings for the story of Mary Magdalene.  In the shorter version a young man dressed in a white robe tells Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome that Jesus has risen, and instructs them to go and tell the disciples (and Peter) that he is going before them into Galilee. The women are afraid and tell no one. 

In the longer version, Jesus appears only to Mary Magdalene who tells those who had been with him, but they do not believe her.  In Luke the first appearance by Jesus after the Resurrection is on the road to Emmaus.  In Mark this appearance happens later on the same day as the appearance to Mary Magdalene. This is the last time Mary Magdalene is mentioned in any of the Gospel accounts, and she does not appear in the Book of Acts and or any of the epistles.

The non-canonical Gospel of Philip calls Mary Magdalene the koinônos of Jesus, a Greek word meaning partner or companion. This supports popular speculation that Mary Magdalene's special relationship with Jesus roused the envy of the male disciples, especially Peter.  In the non-canonical Gospel of Mary, Peter says to Mary Magdalene, “Sister we know that the Savior loved you more than the rest. Tell us the words of the Savior which you remember which you know, but we do not, nor have we heard them.” 

She answers, “What is hidden from you I will proclaim” and she begins to tell what them she saw.  Unfortunately, the following four pages describing what she saw have been destroyed, perhaps intentionally.  The narrative ends with Mary Magdalen falling silent when Andrew says to Peter, “Did he then speak secretly with a woman, in preference to us, and not openly? Are we to turn back and listen to her? Did he prefer her to us?” She asks Peter if he thinks she made it all up or that she is lying, whereupon Levi comes to her defense and accuses them of all being too adversarial. Levi says, “If the Savior made her worthy who are you indeed to reject her?”

Mary Magdalene's proper role as Apostle to the Apostles was confirmed by the Holy See and her memorial was elevated to the level of a feast in 2016.  This title is supported by the canonical Gospels, and by the writings of Hugh of Cluny (1024–1109), Peter Abelard (1079–1142), and Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153).  Pope John Paul II wrote, “Mary Magdalene was the first eyewitness of the Risen Christ, and for this reason she was also the first to bear witness to him before the Apostles. This event, in a sense, crowns all that has been said previously about Christ entrusting divine truths to women as well as men.”