Mary, Mary, quite contrary?

For too many centuries, history has been written by men. The voice of women has not been heard. So it’s great to celebrate the first votes for women this week. It is a joy and a delight that we live in an age where true equality it within our grasp, even if not quite totally here yet. The voices of women really do need to be heard.

One of the extraordinary things about the Bible is how Jesus treated women. We don’t know a great deal about many of the women in the New Testament, but what we do know is quite striking.

Take Mary Magdalene: a cracked pot if ever there was one. Quite a lot of what we think we know about her is pure fiction. She wasn’t a laundry woman or a prostitute, the two most popular myths about her profession. That was a bit of fake news spread by Pope Gregory the 23rd. He got her mixed up with ‘Mary of Egypt’, a fourth century nun. Neither were Mary & Jesus an item. That bizarre idea comes in from the fifth century.

Her name is actually Mary ‘the Magdalene’. Magdalene literally means ‘Tower’ so it could just be that she was a tall girl. Or it could be (more likely) that she was from the town of Magdala. That makes more sense. You walk down a road between two hills from Nazareth, to the Sea of Galilee. At the end of the road, before you turn either north to Capernaum or south to Tiberius, is the small fishing village of Magdala. I can imagine Jesus travelling down to see his friends, even stopping off at the synagogue of Magdala, and being confronted by Mary.

(This is the ruin of the synagogue at Magdala, from the first century.)

It’s not a story actually recorded in the Bible, but we are told Mary was plagued by seven demons. It must have been terrible for her and such a relief when Jesus cast out those demons. Like the wild man of Gadarenes, she must have gone from being a very disturbed young woman, to being possesssed by an enduring peace. Mary becomes one of the women who work to support Jesus practically in his ministry. In fact, in lists of the female supporters of Jesus, Mary is always mentioned first. In fact, the earliest stories of Mary recorded outside of the Bible describe her as a visionary leader of the early church.

In Holy Week, Mary comes into her own. She is the only witness specifically recorded as being present at the crucifixion and the resurrection. In fact, Jesus chooses to appear to Mary before anyone else. She calls him Rabonni – Teacher – in a cultural where women cook and clean. Only men learn. The fact that Jesus appears to Mary first should blow our minds. That Jesus speaks first to a woman is amazing. But then, maybe not surprising, when she tells the men following Jesus, they don’t believe it and go check it out for themselves.

Mary definitely started life as a Cracked Pot, but Jesus healed her. He restored her and trusted her. He used her to reveal and share the Good News before any of the others.

I wish we heard more of Mary in the New Testament. She is one of the most important of the disciples, even if not one of official 12 apostles. I’m sure if it was just up to Jesus, we’d hear more of her. But the culture of the time, and the culture of those writing down events, maybe made this impossible. But even with few words from her mouth, we see a cracked pot beautifully restored. Someone who had been forgiven much and consequently loved much.

This is one of the Cracked Pots series of blogs.