When God came to live on earth as a human being, He entered into a culture and a religion that had many, many dark places full of fear and ignorance. Jesus came to bring light. He came to bring the Kingdom of God to earth as it is in heaven. He came to show us a new vision and a new way of life.
In the first century a woman was defined almost exclusively in terms of her family relations. One of the biggest issues shrouded in darkness was the role and treatment of women. Jesus lived in an age of sexual discrimination. Women were dehumanized, viewed as objects and property. Most were banned from full participation in public life or any type of leadership role.
Two primary roles of women were: raising children and satisfying their husband’s desires, sexual or otherwise.
One day a Jewish woman called out to Jesus, “blessed is the mother who gave birth and nursed you,” to which Jesus replied, “blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Jesus wanted to make it clear that a woman’s status was not dependent on the children she bears: her identity comes from God.
He attacked the problem at its root—a male superiority complex that led to the objectification of women.
First century rabbis often blamed women for the immoral sexual behavior that occurred in society. Women were seen as temptresses and kept out of public life. Very much the way many women still live today.
Jesus argued that the dehumanization of women was wrong and provided a radically new solution: rather than pushing women out of the public realm he asked men to take responsibility for their own lustful thoughts. He said: “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has adulterated her already in his heart.” Statements such as these changed the status of women from that of a sexual object to that of a valuable human being. He gave them back their true identity which can only come from God.
Jesus, in contrast to the rabbis and the culture, chose to relate openly and naturally with women of all sorts: respectable women and immoral ones, he touched them, they touched him, and he even defended the woman who kissed his feet in public. Woman were a part of his entourage. They followed him around the country as he taught. He enjoyed theological discussions with them. Take Mary and Martha, for example: he was frustrated with Martha puttering around the kitchen; preparing food, cleaning and serving as was expected of her while Mary sat and enjoyed a good conversation.
In John 4, the woman at the well from Samaria (who was not a Jew) was the first person Jesus revealed himself to as “the messiah.” The Gospel of John is full of stories of Jesus’ interactions with women.
With the things just mentioned in mind, I want to shine a light on Mary Magdalene.
Some quick facts about who Mary was: often Mary seems to symbolize all humanity including sinners and the oppressed. Often she is referred to as a prostitute, but there is no proof of this in any records. No one knows much about her family history and it would seem that she was single without any immediate family. She was also a woman of means from the region of Magdalene, independent, a leader and often mentioned in the gospels. When Jesus originally meets her she was overwhelmed with 7 demons—7 voices—7 lies filling her mind. They made it impossible for her to live a whole and fulfilling life.
Nadia Bolz Weber suggests that demons are defined as anything other than God that try to tell us who we are. Mary had 7 voices tormenting her with lies about who she was.
What are some of the voices in our heads? What lies torment us?
Demons tell us that we’re failures, losers, worthless, fat, ugly, addicts, too loud, too quiet, unwanted… and the list goes on.
All of these types of voices are lies that rob us of the person we really are. When Jesus called her by name, “MARY,” she suddenly knew the truth—she heard her name and saw her true identity. Such clarity chased the lies, demons, and voices out. She was no longer “walking in the dark.”
No longer doubting her value and being affirmed in her identity, Mary, freed to be her true self, became a committed follower of Jesus.
She used her money and her time to serve Jesus and his disciples. She and several other women traveled with them caring and providing for them. She became an integral part of his ministry here on earth. I can imagine that she would often talk about her new freedom with the women she would meet and encouraging and blessing them.
Mary followed Jesus right up to the end of his life. She was one of the people that followed him on his last journey from Galilee to Jerusalem and was at the trial with him. After his arrest, some of the followers deserted Jesus, but not Mary, she stayed to watch as Pilate pronounced his sentence of crucifixion. She witnessed and wept as Jesus left the hall and was led up to Calvary. Mary was one of the women who stayed close to the cross to give comfort to Jesus with their presence. Mary Magdalene stayed until Jesus took his last breath and then followed him to the tomb.
John 20 reads:
1 Early Sunday morning,[a] while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone was rolled aside from the entrance.
2 She ran and found Simon Peter and me[b] and said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and I don’t know where they have put him!”
3-4 We[c] ran to the tomb to see; I* outran Peter and got there first, 5 and stooped and looked in and saw the linen cloth lying there, but I didn’t go in. 6 Then Simon Peter arrived and went on inside. He also noticed the cloth lying there, 7 while the swath that had covered Jesus’ head was rolled up in a bundle and was lying at the side. 8 Then I went in too, and saw, and believed that he had risen[d]— 9 for until then we hadn’t realized that the Scriptures said he would come to life again!
10 We[e] went on home, 11 and by that time Mary had returned to the tomb and was standing outside crying. And as she wept, she stooped and looked in 12 and saw two white-robed angels sitting at the head and foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying.
13 “Why are you crying?” the angels asked her.
“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”
14 She glanced over her shoulder and saw someone standing behind her. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him!
15 “Why are you crying?” he asked her. “Whom are you looking for?”
She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”
16 “Mary!” Jesus said. She turned toward him.
“Master!” she exclaimed.
17 “Don’t touch me,” he cautioned, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them that I ascend to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.”
18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.
In Mark 16:11 we read that the disciples didn’t believe Mary’s testimony.
Imagine, Jesus commissioned Mary Magdalene to tell the good news of his resurrection!! Mary had stayed by his side no matter what, caring for him until his death and now she was rewarded with this honor!
So here’s the thing, the most amazing thing:
God came to this earth to show us what he really cared about. To show us his heart, to shine light on all the dark places in our culture, in our religion, in our hearts, and in our minds. He came to speak our name, clearing out the demons and giving us our true identity. Who gets the first and last word on this work?? MARY AND MARY!
Jesus’ life began and ended with an angel announcing the good news to a woman. Imagine in a culture where a woman’s testimony was non-existent, where her side of a story had no validity. God chose mother Mary, a teenager, to keep her baby messiah a secret—the biggest secret of all time! and then Mary Magdalene was given the news of his resurrection but this Mary was instructed to ‘GO TELL EVERYONE.’
HOW FANTASTIC IS THAT?!?!