Mary Magdelene may not need forensics to prove her innocence in a crime, but with some Scriptural forensics we can prove two things about her (Mt. 27:55-61; 28:1-10; Mk. 15:40-47; 16:1-19; Lk. 8:1-3; 24:1-10; Jn. 19:23-25; 20:1-18). The first, and perhaps most humorous, misconception concerning Mary is her “last name” which is not a last name at all but a word which identifies her hometown. Magdala was known for its dye works and textile factories in the days of Jesus and was one of the wealthier towns on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Mary may have been associated with one of these wealthier families for it was not uncommon for women of means to patronize rabbis by supplying food and other necessities. Mary along with several other prominent women are mentioned as doing the same for Jesus (Mt. 27:55-56; Lk. 8:2-3; Mk. 15:40-41). But we really know nothing of her family background or her source of income because it is never mentioned. What we can assume is that with no known family ties she was free to devote herself to Jesus’ ministry.
The second inaccurate assumption concerning Mary is concerns her past. One author noted, “The wide acceptance of the tradition that she was a former prostitute is utterly baseless”. As stated earlier a close look at all the verses which mention her by name proves this to be true. But while Mary was not a woman of ill-repute, she was a woman who suffered. Although she may have been of high standing and raised in comfortable circumstances the Gospel writers note that she suffered from demonic oppression, literally form seven evil spirits. The number seven is sometimes symbolic for completeness meaning that whether literally or symbolically, when the evil spirits dominated Mary, the suffering was extremely severe.
What weaknesses Mary may have had, making it easy for the demons to enter and torment her, we are not told. But her deliverance resulted in utter devotion and service to Jesus. That devotion showed itself in her generosity as she ministered out of her own substance. She is often mentioned within a list of women who did this, usually appearing toward the front meaning she occupied a place ahead of the other godly females serving Jesus (Lk. 8:1-3). However Mary’s greatest honor is that she was the first person to see the Resurrected Lord thus becoming the initial herald of the Good News (Mt. 28:1-10; Mk. 16:1-11; Lk. 24:1-18; Jn. 20:1-10). It is the last official glimpse we see of her in Scripture, but we can be fairly certain that she remained with the other believers in the Upper Room after Christ’s ascension and witnessed the miraculous outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2.
While it is good to take note of Mary’s devotion and to extol her virtues as a follower of Christ, we must realize that her story is not there just so we can say, “Oh how nice!” and leave it at that. Perhaps the most obvious lesson from her life is that Mary recognized how much the Lord had given to her and therefore she gave the same in return. Are we doing the same? Are we loving Jesus and serving Him with everything we have as she did? Or are we more like the Church at Ephesus who forgot its First Love and let their service to the Lord go cold (Rev. 2:1-7, see v. 4)? Someone recently said to me when recognizing the challenges of serving Christ, “Ministry is inconvenient, but it’s what we’re called to do.” I know that if I find myself reacting selfishly when a need presents itself rather than serving, one thought of Christ’s willingness to suffer on the cross (the ultimate inconvenience if you ask me!) and my attitude gets adjusted rather quickly. Mary Magdelene’s life reminds us that all that we have, and all that we are should be given in full measure to Jesus in response to the gift of salvation which He gave so selflessly gave to us. Like Mary we have been given much. What are we giving in return (Lk. 12:41-48)?
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 10/22/2017