Welcome to the eleventh week of our Summer Bible journaling challenge, Women of Valor. Today, we will be studying and journaling the story of Mary of Magdala, also known as Mary Magdalene.
This week’s reading: Luke 8:1-3, Mark 15:40, Mark 27:56, Mark 15:47, Matthew 27:61, Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1, John 20:1-18
This week’s journaling focus: John 20:18
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Of all the women in the New Testament, Mary Magdalene may have the worst reputation — and the least-deserved! Many people believe that Mary Magdalene, who was one of the female followers and companions of Jesus, was a prostitute; however, there is no Biblical reference to this (the belief probably came from the fact that the first mention of her follows the story of a sinful woman).1 All we know about Mary Magdalene, or Mary of Magdala, is that she was an afflicted woman, possessed by seven demons before Jesus healed her. After her encounter with Jesus, Mary Magdalene spent her life following Jesus, and became one of the best-remembered and most-revered women of the Bible. She is listed in every gospel, is the first woman named to follow Jesus, and is the first person to witness the Resurrection. Join us today as we journal the story of Mary Magdalene, who walked with Christ.
Mary’s Story (in Two Parts)
Part One: Encountering Jesus
We don’t know very much about Mary Magdalene first-hand. Instead, we hear a few facts about her life in retrospective and are left to fill in the blanks. The first we hear of her is in Luke 8:1, when Jesus is traveling through the cities and villages, “proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God” (Luke 8:1). With him are the disciples and “some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities,” including “Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out” (Luke 8:2). Along with the other two women who are said to follow Jesus in this verse, Joanna and Susanna, Mary is said to “provided for them out of their means,” indicating that she might have come from some wealth and status. This is certainly possible — Mary is called the Magdalene because she came from a coastal town called Magdala, which was known to be wealthy through dyes and textiles.2 It is possible that Mary’s family benefitted from these trades, and that these were the means that she was able to pour into Jesus’ work and ministry. What we know of Mary’s past, then, is that she was a woman who struggled with illness and evil until she encountered Jesus, and that after he healed her, she spent her life following him.
Part Two: At the Cross and Tomb
The next we hear of Mary Magdalene is at the time of the death of Jesus in Mark 15. Jesus has been convicted, mocked and belittled, and crucified. At the time of his last breath, the centurion watching the crucifixion says, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39). We read that the women watch from afar, Mary Magdalene among them. The pain and anguish that these women must have felt is unbelievable. They likely believed that this was the ‘end’ of the story; but as we know, it is only the beginning.
After Jesus is wrapped in linen and brought to the tomb, Mary Magdalene and another Mary see where Jesus was laid and sit opposite the tomb (Mark 15:47, Matthew 27:61). The following morning, they go to the tomb to anoint him with spices when they find the tomb empty (Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1, John 20:1). When they see the stone was rolled away, Mary runs to Simon Peter and “the other disciple” and cries, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” (John 20:2). The disciples, not understanding that Jesus would rise again, returned to their homes; but Mary stayed, weeping, and Jesus appeared to her (John 20:8-14):
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary listened, running to the disciples. And she told them, “I have seen the Lord,” and repeated his words to her.
Though there were several women who followed Jesus and participated in his ministry, Mary Magdalene is the best-known, likely because she was the first named and the first person to whom Jesus appeared after the Resurrection. Like Mary of Nazareth and Elizabeth, who we have studied in previous weeks, Mary Magdalene recognized the divinity of Jesus. Unlike those two women, she came from a place of immense darkness, and then devoted her life to following Jesus, literally walking beside him as he journeyed from city to city. How is Mary Magdalene’s story a metaphor for our own journeys with God?
Questions for Contemplation
- How do the themes of Mary Magdalene’s story play out in your own life?
Mary Magdalene’s story is a beautiful example of a life walked with Jesus. Mary was plagued by demons until she was healed through an encounter with Jesus, and following that encounter, she spent her life following him. Her life was not “perfect” after first meeting Jesus; she still experienced pain and suffering of her own, as we are reminded when she witnesses the crucifixion from afar. But Mary finds joy again, when Jesus appears to her after his resurrection. She breathlessly runs to the disciples and says to them, “I have seen the Lord.” Focus on these words as you journal today. You may want to illustrate Mary seeing Jesus after he has risen, or illustrate your own “encounters” with Jesus throughout your life. Or you may choose to letter the words, focusing on what they mean to you.
If you’d like to read more about Mary and her story, please feel free to check out these resources. All links to Amazon throughout this post are affiliate links:
- “Mary Magdalene” in Women of the Bible: 52 Bible Studies for Individuals and Groups by Ann Spangler and Jean E. Syswerda, pages 395-403. This is a great book that I’ll be referencing a lot in this series. It reflects on 52 different women of the Bible and includes context, prayers, and reflection questions. This book is more faith-focused than academic.
- The online resource Bible Gateway has this to say on the matter: “Luke, who knew her, wrote about this woman (Luke 7:37). The Jewish Talmud affirms that Magdala had an unsavory reputation, and because of the harlotry practiced there was destroyed. Doubtless it was from this tradition, and from the fact that Luke’s first reference to her follows the story of the sinful woman, that the idea developed that Mary was a prostitute, but there is not an iota of genuine evidence to suggest such a bad reputation. Those theologians who describe her as a profligate do her an injustice, just as calling institutions for the care of fallen women “Magdalen Homes” does. One writer defines Magdalen as “the inmate of a female penitentiary,” but the Bible depicts Mary as a pure, though deeply afflicted woman before she met Jesus. To suggest that she was dissolute because she was possessed by seven devils, is to affirm that every insane person is depraved. There is no word whatever in the writings of the Christian Fathers, whose authority stands next to the apostles, as to Mary having a foul reputation.” ↩
- You can read more about this in the same Bible Gateway article. ↩