“Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loves much: but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Luke 7:36
I always like to ask around if anyone has any suggestions for my Sunday Reflection. I like to learn about what other people want to hear.
My brother said talk about Judgement. I’m paraphrasing him when he said that it really is the core piece of the New Testament and Jesus’s Word. People always talk about what to do, what Jesus was saying, and pointing fingers, but Jesus lived the life of forgiveness, love, and compassion.
I hemmed and hawed. Judgement seemed like the obvious. The thing we always talk about when we talk about religion. But we listen to the story of the birth of Christ and the death of Christ over and over and it never gets boring. In fact, I feel like every new telling gives us a new nugget to chew on and ponder.
I had thought about talking about Mary Magdalene because her Feast day was last week. Now there’s a life steeped in judgement and forgiveness. I thought: all right, judgment it is and I went to seek out the throwing of stones and here it is:
John 8: 2-11:
2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them.
3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group
4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.
5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”
6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.
7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.
10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Here’s where things get interesting. Mary Magdalene wasn’t actually this person. She was not actually a prostitute. This threw me for a loop. All the stories talk about Mary Magdalene as the prostitute. She is attributed as the woman in this stone throwing. She’s not. Talk about judgement. 2000 plus years and we still think of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute and it’s very likely that…she wasn’t.
Over time she has become the Penitent Sinner who redeems herself. And IN THAT story becomes a beacon of hope for those who feel weighed down by sin. She gives them HOPE.
A dear friend told me recently that the Bible is like a library. It is full of stories. There are the stories you love and come back to and there are the stories that you don’t like and should come back to (there is always a lesson in what you resist) and there are stories that just keep growing for you. Come back to the stories you love. Come back to the stories that challenge you.
My first introductions to Mary Magdalene was Jesus Christ Superstar. Yep. I know. It’s true. But, through her, Jesus suddenly became a very human Jesus to me. He suddenly wasn’t this man on the cross, above me and frightening. He was suddenly human. He wasn’t this being that always stood above the rest of everybody else, often with a glowing crown around his head. He became human. He became a being that could be loved, as an equal, in a way. Of course Mary Magdalene would love him. The rest of the disciples did. Why wouldn’t she? And , of course she would also think of him as a man. He was human. That story is what made Him real to me. It brought home to point of Jesus, that he was divinity in human form. He was one of us.
Anyway, from then on, I’ve always loved the story of Mary perhaps because she made Jesus so real to me. But that’s my own personal exploration…
I’m going to admit that my exploring became pretty challenging and frustrating. So, there’s what you remember from the Bible and there’s what actually IS in the Bible. Let’s just say if we’re keeping it really simple: we’ve got to cross reference Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to get a good picture of what’s happening Biblically.
Then we’ve got historical and there’s quite a bit of more recently discovered scrolls and texts. Mostly damaged with missing lines and pages. And the whole thing started as an oral tradition, that then got written down, and then was translated and translated and translated. So…yes, it’s a lot to explore. ASIDE: I like to get the foundational facts straight, so I like to look at all the different aspects. I use the Oxford Study Bible for it’s explanations of translations and possible confusions plus nuggets of history and context. It’s like spirit with a history lesson, language lesson, cultural lesson, and then I just gotta come back to my heart and what resonates with me. I believe that’s the core at the heart of it all.
I also am not uncomfortable pulling in newer texts. I feel like they help the story to evolve and grow. I feel like they don’t invalidate the past, which is already conflicting and confusing, but help to give it more life and heart. It’s like a living and growing story that feeds our spirit.
I’ve been digging into Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I also dug a little bit into the discovered Gospels of Thomas, Mary, and Philip. I dug a little bit into legends and oral tradition. Like: where did Mary as a prostitute come from. Here’s some ideas:
She was probably from a village of Magdala (hence her name) which historically was a fishing village. It was probably a poor village and so many women would have had to make some extra income. Another possible historical factor is that the town might have been one known for having a lot of brothels. Then there’s this super interesting tidbit I read that historically Mary was probably wealthy. She (and the other women) probably financially sustained the mission of the apostles. I don’t know. I’m sharing nuggets I discovered for myself. You have to sort through the nuggets for yourself. I suggest turning inward. Listen to your heart. Spirit is heart. It’s hard to get frustrated and angry when you listen to your own heart. It’s when you listen to your head that those strong emotions come in. I know this, I was getting a little frustrated trying to sort truth (lower case truth) from a bunch of new layers to my Mary story. But when I come back to my heart, I found something closer to Truth (capital letter Truth).
In 500ad Pope St. Gregory the Great appears. It’s a time of war. It’s a time when a lot of people are dying. His goal is for people to repent of their sins. He compares the seven demons (we’ll get to this) of Mary to the seven deadly sins, including lust. This is where Mary becomes the Penitent Sinner and we are taught that no matter the depth of sin, redemption is possible. Then, the stories spread. In the middle ages, we had a culture that elaborated the stories into myths and legends. Art flourished. The 12th century we have the Grail quests. What is the grail? Where is the grail? And it tends to lean toward either the cup at the last supper OR the cup Mary used to hold the blood of Christ on the cross.
Again, stories we love. Stories that challenge us. Stories that make us think. New layers that make us question. It’s not straightforward, as we are probably learning from the Parables series.
What it Truth?
Here’s what we know from the Bible. When Mary first meets Jesus he relieves her of seven demons. In the time period, this could have been ‘real’ demons. This could have been some sore of a mental disorder. There are arguments that it is the opening of the seven gates of the soul…but I won’t digress. Or…I’ll try not to, although I must admit Teresa of Avila came to mind…
Here’s what we traditionally Biblically know. We know that Mary was a key figure in the prominent events of Jesus’s life:
–She was at his feet at the worst moment of his life. The crucifixion.
–She was the one who first knew of his Resurrection. She is sent by Jesus to tell the others and this is why she is often called the ‘apostle of the apostles’; she brought the word of his resurrection to the others.
It is important to point out that without this miracle there is no future Christianity. He is just a man who offered the word of God. The key to all Christianity is that he is resurrected, he is God in flesh, and this key to the future of Christianity is given to a woman in a time when the testimony of women was questionable to the point that it was not legal. All four of the main gospels agree on this.
A few other key points
–She is the first of his female apostles and is almost always mentioned first when women are named.
–She is the first to be charged with the ministry of Christ’s message.
READING LINKS in the Order Of Service for anyone who would like the delve further for yourself:
Luke 24 1-11
Matthew 28: 1-10
John 10: 1-18
I enjoyed seeking for this reflection. It’s like a puzzle without all of the pieces. And pieces that you aren’t sure actually belong in the puzzle. Some of them seem to fit, but do they?
This is why I am leery of anyone who claims to have the Answer. That they know the Truth and will tell you what that Truth is. There is so much missing and maybe for some there is nothing missing, the core book is enough. For others, with a questioning nature, that is not enough. They love the evolution and exploration. There is everyone in between. There must be a respect for all seekers.
I can tell you that no where in the texts does it say Mary is the Penitent Sinner. But the legend is so strong that it IS true. It also may be so healing to someone that it IS the core of their Faith. That all sin can be forgiven and Mary embodies that. To take that away would be like taking away someone’s medication. It is what soothes and heals them. Who am I to take that away because it is not my truth?
I don’t have your answers. I do have my answers. I do have my faith. I do have my foundation. But it is not, I should hope not as we are all uniquely different, your faith and truth and foundation.
Your truth, and these stories, are flavored by your life experiences. Your personal stories. My judgement that your story, your faith, is not true would take away your security, your Faith, for answers that can not be proven. There is a reason, in the end, that it is called Faith.
I say look into your heart. In yoga, I am always telling my students listen to their body. It will tell you when you’ve taken a pose too far. I am your guide, you are your teacher. I will tell you the same thing: this story might be your guide, but you are your own teacher. You hold your own wisdom. Trust yourself.
In the end, for me, Jesus and Mary will always have a very human element. I see Mary and Jesus as friends. Friends who had a deep trust for one another. They walked together and were there for one another other during their worst human moments. Jesus was her teacher and guide. She was His wise disciple. More than that, I can’t say.
My story for Mary is that she was a brave soul, a woman who risked everything to stand with him at the cross. That she is one of the Wisdom Keepers of Jesus’s Truth. That she understood His teachings on a deep level and that she shared that wisdom of love, hope, faith, compassion, and peace with others.