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18. Mary Magdalene

18-5 Mary Magdalene And The Cross

It is emphasized that Mary Magdalene beheld the cross of Jesus (Mk. 15:40)- the same word is used about how she came to see the sepulchre (Mt. 28:1); she saw Jesus standing (Jn. 20:14). People beheld the spectacle of the crucifixion (Lk. 23:48) and repented, smiting their breasts in recognition of their sinfulness. She was representative of us all. John’s Gospel is full of references to the crucifixion, and especially the idea of ‘seeing’ / perceiving its’ real meaning. Jn. 1 “we beheld his glory”; the word was made flesh on the cross specifically. “This is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life” (Jn. 6:40) connects with the idea of looking unto the bronze snake (which represented Christ on the cross) and receiving life.  

“And he that seeth  [on the cross] seeth him that sent me. I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness” (Jn. 12:45,46). Note again the linkage between seeing and believing; which Jn. 3 applies to belief in the crucified Jesus, as Israel had to believe in the bronze snake on the pole. The light of the world was defined in Jn. 3 as the light of the cross. In seeing / perceiving Christ on the cross, we perceive the essence of God- for the Father was so intensely manifested in the Son. There, God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.  

“Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory [a reference to His desire that they would perceive the crucifixion as the manifestation of glory, after the pattern of the theophany of Exodus 34], which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world [the lamb was slain “from the foundation of the world”]. O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it [on the cross]: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them” (Jn. 17:24-26).  

The emphasis on Mary Magdalene being the one who beheld the cross, the one who perceived the things of the Lord’s death and resurrection, is surely to set her up as our example. For we can look at the cross without perceiving the glory and wonder it all, neither perceiving the urgency of the imperative in the things which were so uniquely crystallized there.  

When we read that “someone” offered him a sponge with wine mixed with myrrh (Mk. 15:36; Mt. 27:48), we recall the use of myrrh in preparing bodies for burial (Mk. 14:3; Lk. 23:56; Jn. 12:3; 19:39). Pliny (Natural History 14.15.92,107) records: “The finest wine in early days was that spiced with the scent of myrrh…I also find that aromatic wine is constantly made from almost the same ingredient as perfumes, from myrrh”. This alerts me to the real possibility that the unnamed bystander who did this was Mary Magdalene. Earlier she had anointed the Lord’s body with myrrh “to the burial”. And now she has prepared the most expensive form of wine as some sort of pain killer. Perhaps the Lord was so touched by this that He accepted it, but didn’t drink it. His doing this is otherwise very hard to understand. Her love was on one hand inappropriate, and yet the Lord still accepted it, even though He couldn’t use it. He could have felt angry with her for tempting Him to the easier way. But He didn’t. And in so doing He showed her that the essence of the cross is that there is no easy way. The principles of all this are to be reflected in our cross carrying. 

When Mary Magdalene touched Jesus in Lk. 7:39, people reasoned that Jesus wasn’t Messiah because He appeared not to know that He was being touched by a sinner. Yet this incident prepared the Lord for the time when He would be smitten and demanded to prophesy who smote Him, if He was the Christ (Lk. 22:64). At that moment, perhaps He thought back to Mary. He would have realized that that incident with her had been a living out of the spirit of the cross, and it prepared Him for the final agony.  

Mt. 28:9 speaks of Mary Magdalene falling down at the Lord’s feet. Is this to be connected with how Mt. 18:29 describes casting oneself down at another’s feet implying a desperate request for mercy? Or at least, a desperate request (Mk. 5:22; 7:25; Lk. 8:41), as Mary had made herself earlier (Jn. 11:32). Their experience of the death and resurrection of the Lord elicited within them a sense of their unworthiness.