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18. Mary Magdalene

18-2 The Primacy Of Mary Magdalene

Note that Mary Magdalene is the most frequently named person in the passion narratives. Clearly the Gospel writers, under inspiration, perceived her as the central figure amongst those who were witnesses of it all. In doing so they turned on its head the prevailing idea that the witness of a woman was worthless. They saw her as the main witness.  

The Gospel writers clearly see Mary Magdalene as of prime importance amongst the women who followed the Lord. Luke twice places her first in his lists of the ministering women (Lk. 8:2; 24:10). Matthew likewise focuses on how she was at Calvary, at the burial and at the empty tomb (Mt. 27:56, 61; 28:1,9). She clearly captured the attention of the gospel writers.

 Mary Magdalene, coming to the sepulchre, finds the stone taken away. This evangelist does not mention the other women that went with Mary Magdalene, the focus is totally upon her as the leading witness. Or it could be that Mary Magdalene came to the sepulchre while it was still dark (Jn. 20:1). The other women came early in the morning, even though they together with Mary had bought sweet spices together when the Passover Sabbath was ended (Mk. 16:1,2). It seems to me that although the women all came to see the tomb early that morning, and Mary Magdalene is sometimes included amongst them in the account of this, Mary came before the others. And this is why she saw the Lord. It seems to me that she came alone.  

A Pattern For Us All

- After the Lord’s resurrection, all things were put under His feet (Heb. 2:8)- and straight after it, Mary Magdalene is to be found at His feet. Surely she is representative of the “all things” of the new creation. Something of her struggle, the essence of her relationship with the Lord, is intended to be found in each of us.  

- When John records Mary Magdalene as saying " I have seen the Lord" (Jn. 20:18), he is consciously alluding to Jn. 14:19 and Jn. 16:16, where the Lord had prophesied that the disciples would see Him. It's as if John saw her as the representative of them all. Further evidence of this is found in the way John records the Lord as saying that He calls His sheep by name, and they recognize His voice (Jn. 10:5)- and by then recording how Mary Magdalene was the one who recognized the Lord’s voice when He called her name (Jn. 20:16), as if she represents all the Lord’s sheep. The significant role which John assigns to women is also reflected in the way he records the Lord Jesus praying for those who would believe in Him through the word of the disciples (Jn. 17:20), and yet John seems to be alluding back to the way people believed in Jesus because of the word of the Samaritan woman (Jn. 4:39,42). A woman rising early and searching for the Man whom she loves, asking the watchmen whether they have seen him, then finding him, seizing him and not letting him go…this is all the fulfilment of Song 3:1-4, where the bride of Christ is pictured doing these very things. Mary Magdalene is therefore used by John as a symbol for all the believers, or at least for the Jewish Messianic community searching for Jesus. Compare too the Lord’s reassurance of Mary Magdalene with language of Is. 43:1 to the whole community of believers: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name…”. 

- Mary Magdalene was named after the town of Magdala. The name derives from the Hebrew  migdol, ‘tower’.  So the repeated description of her as the Magdalene could be implying: Mary the tower- Magdalene. Just as the shaky Simon was described as ‘the rock’, Simon-the-rock, so the shady Mary was surnamed ‘Mary-the-tower’. It was common for Jewish rabbis to give their followers names, and it seems the Lord did this too- but the names He gave reflected the potential which He saw in His men and women. And the name He gives us likewise is a reflection of the potential we can live up to.  

- Dr. Lightfoot, finding in some of the Talmudists’ writings that Mary Magdalene signified Mary the plaiter of hair, applies it to her (as does Harry Whittaker). This would imply that she had been noted, in the days of her iniquity and infamy, for that plaiting of hair which is opposed to modest apparel (1 Tim. 2:9). This would imply that 1 Tim. 2:9 is saying that Mary’s conversion is a pattern for us all. 

- We find another example of Paul holding up Mary Magdalene as our example in 2 Cor. 8:12, where he speaks of how the Lord although He was rich became poor for our sakes, and we ought to be inspired by this to generosity towards our poorer brethren. The connection with Mary Magdalene goes back to Mk. 14:7, where Jesus said that Mary had in fact given her wealth to the poor, by anointing Him, the poor one, the one who made Himself poor for our sakes. And the comment that wherever the Gospel was preached, her example would be preached (Mk. 14:9) is tantamount to saying that her action was to be the pattern for all who would afterward believe the Gospel. Note in passing that the Gospel was not intended by the Lord to be a mere set of doctrinal propositions; it was to be a message which included practical patterns of response to it, of which Mary’s was to be always mentioned. What she did was “to prepare me for burial” (Mt. 26:12 RV). This could be read as the Lord saying that what she did inspired Him to go forward in the path to death which He was treading. Note in passing that her generosity was set up as a cameo of the response to the Lord which all who believe the Gospel should make. The Gospel is not just a set of doctrines to be painlessly apprehended. It is a call to action after the pattern of Mary. The good news was to be of the Lord’s death and burial, and yet integral to that message was to be the pattern of response which was seen in Mary- to give our all, our most treasured and hoarded things, for His sake (Mt. 26:13). Peter’s letters are packed with allusions back to the Gospels. When he writes that to us, the Lord Jesus should be “precious” (1 Pet. 2:7), he surely has in mind how Mary had anointed the Lord with her “very precious ointment” (Jn. 12:3 RV). He bids us to be like Mary, to perceive “the preciousness” (RV) of Jesus, and to respond by giving up our most precious things, mentally or materially, in our worshipful response to Him. 

- Mary addresses the gardener as “sir”, but this is the same Geek word [kurios] as is translated “Lord’ a few verses earlier, when she describes Jesus as “the Lord” (Jn. 20:2,15). It seems to me that she half knew that this person standing there was Jesus. She was half expecting it. “They have taken away the Lord” (Jn. 20:2) almost sounds as if she felt Him to be alive and already made Lord and Christ. But the sheer grief of the situation distracted her from seeing that it was really Him. In this kind of thing there is, to me at least, the greatest proof of inspiration. It is all so real and therefore credible. She couldn’t dare believe that her wildest hope of every grieving person was actually coming true. And in this we surely see some echoes of the slowness to believe that we have actually made it which it seems there will be after the judgment seat experience [see Judgment To Come for more on this]. Jn. 20:11 records that Mary “stood without”, and yet the same word is used in a rather negative context elsewhere in the Gospels: Lk. 8:20 Mary and His brethren standing without; LK. 13:25 the rejected “stand without” with the door closed, seeking for their Lord; Jn. 18:16 Peter stood at the door without. It’s as if she was in the shoes of the rejected. And yet she is graciously accepted in a wonderful way by the risen Lord. And she is our representative. 

- Paul seems to have seen Mary as one of his patterns when he speaks of how he laboured more abundantly than anyone, because of the depth of grace he had known (1 Tim. 1:14,15)- for Mary “loved much” because she had been forgiven much (Lk. 7:47). In passing, was the Lord’s comment “she loved much” an indication that He thereby knew how much she had sinned, without having the knowledge beamed into Him, because He observed how much she now loved Him? In the parable which the Lord told comparing Simon and Mary, He made the comment that it was only “When they [realized that] they had nothing wherewith to pay” (Lk. 7:42 RV) that they were forgiven. He perceived how Mary had come to that point, at His feet, weeping, of knowing that she had nothing to pay. And Paul, and us, must reach that point if we are to find the motivation to “love much” in response.  

- Mary’s lavish anointing of the Lord may well have been what inspired Nicodemus to so lavishly prepare the Lord’s body for burial. The vast quantities of spices he used was more than that used in the burials of some of the Caesars. He too must have bankrupted himself to anoint the Lord’s body. That two people did this within a week of each other is too close a similarity to be co-incidental. Surely Mary inspired him.  

- The parable of the good Samaritan features Jesus as the Samaritan helping the stricken man, representative of us all. However, the parable is followed immediately by the account of the Lord visiting the Bethany home of Martha and Mary. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho went via Bethany. The home where the sick man was taken was surely intended to be understood as that of Martha and Mary. The attacked man is called “a certain man”, and then we read straight on that the Lord was entertained by “a certain woman” , Martha (Lk. 10:30,38). The Samaritan “as he journeyed” came to the stricken man; and yet “as they went on their way, he entered into a certain village…” (Lk. 10:33,38). The Samaritan Jesus ‘cared for him’; and yet Martha unkindly challenges the Lord ‘Don’t you care…?’ (Lk. 10:35,40). The similarities aren’t just co-incidence. Surely the Lord is teaching that whether or not Martha perceives it, she and Mary are actually the wounded man of the parable, and He is taking care of them, not vice versa as Martha thought, in the teaching He was giving them in their home. He was spiritually pouring in oil and wine. And yet Martha and Mary, especially in Martha’s incomprehension of the Lord’s spiritual and saving care for her, are set up as types of all of us who are saved and cared for in Christ.