Today the church honors the “apostle to the Apostles,” St. Mary of Magdala, more commonly called Mary Magdalene.
Mary’s role in the stories of Jesus varies, depending on the account being referenced. In Luke she was one of those healed by Jesus during his ministry (apparently 7 demons plagued her). Some traditions have identified her with the “woman of the city” who anointed Jesus’ feet when he reclined in the Pharisees’s home, though there is no scriptural basis for this.
In the Gnostic Gospel of Philip, Mary is the one whom Jesus “loved more than the other disciples,” causing 2000 years of speculation over whether or not they were intimate or just in the “friend zone.”
It’s worth noting that the ancient church was known to type-cast in order to provide biased analysis, especially when it came to marginalized communities. The ever-virginal Mary, Mother of Jesus needed a yang to her yin, and so the perpetually penitent prostitute label was assigned to Mary Magdalene. These two mirrored Mary’s would stand for different paths in life for many a young Christian, and unfortunately these typologies have caused terrible, perhaps irreparable, harm to many of the faith.
This unfair, and unfounded moniker of prostitute doesn’t describe Mary Magdalene, but does describe us: we love such labels, especially ones that accuse and belittle.
I think Mary Magdalene should rather be thought of as “ever-faithful” instead of perpetually penitent. It was she who stuck by Jesus on his hardest day when everyone else fled. And it is she who, in the shadows of the early morning, rose to anoint his body, faithful to the end.
Or maybe we should call her “the first pastor,” because it is she who first told the disciples that Jesus had risen, originally proclaiming that good news formally, with the authority of one who had been visited uniquely by Jesus with the message.
Mary Magdalene is a reminder for me, and should be for the church, of two things.
First: histories written by men will feature men and end up denigrating women in some way, either by omission or by commission. This has been true, is presently true, and without a real “come to Jesus” around re-imagining masculinity and the intentional introduction of female voices in the mix, will unfortunately be true in an unchecked future.
Second: a woman was the first pastor. Every pastoral call committee should be reminded of this before looking at any paperwork.
-biographical notes taken from Pfatteicher’s “New Book of Festivals & Commemorations,” opinion portions are solely mine and don’t represent Pfatteicher
-icon written by Ulla Karttunen