Who was she? Why is she controversial? What can we learn from her life with Jesus? Why was she featured so prominently at the cross and the resurrection?
In my opinion everyone needs someone like Mary Magdalene when they face a crisis. Martha of Bethany was not around, but I could see her filling the role we observed in Mary Magdalene as well, if it had been safe for her to be recognized by the religious rulers. Mary Magdalene seems to be like a combination of Mary and Martha. She is the perfect balance of worship of Jesus and service to Him.
When I faced the two major crises of my life, so many people who cannot be named or numbered surrounded and uplifted me in countless ways. One person stands out among them all. She is my Mary Magdalene. I can’t even list the ways she has kept me alive with love and prayers, but beyond that she offered acts of service that were carried out without care for recognition. She drove over to my house over icy roads (after stopping at the home of another widow, mind you) to bring me warm soup and chocolate, essentials needed in her mind to weather the storm without heat (my heater died at just that moment). She helped me complete my overwhelming tasks of widowhood, and the ultimate act of service was when she helped me clear out my garage (believe me, that was bigger than you imagine). She and another great supporter of my soul, Patty, both dressed for a special evening, changed their plans and took a detour to my house to sit with me when my heart was being crushed by another crisis. These friends are my human examples of Mary Magdalene.
Who was Mary Magdalene? She was a woman who had been transformed by Jesus. What we know is that Jesus set her free from seven demons (Luke 8:2). She travelled with the disciples and was a member of the team who provided food and care for the group so Jesus and the disciples were free to minister. She was the kind of woman who served God best by careful attention to practical tasks. That is part of the reason we found her at the foot of the cross beside Jesus’ mother and the other women. While it was most likely all that Mary, His mother, could manage to attend the crucifixion, there were needs to be taken care of for Jesus after His death. Mary Magdalene and the other women carefully attended to the practical needs of a proper burial for Jesus even though limited by time and the unplanned event. She watched Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea as they hastily applied the burial herbs. I imagine she knew they were doing their best arranging under the deadline of the Passover, but the burial of Jesus should meet certain standards. I believe that Mary Magdalene was one of the women who gone home to prepare spices to bury Jesus’ body with all the honor and respect human dignity required.
“The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment” (Luke 23:55-56).
This description of the women reveals their devotion to God. I’m sure everything in them wanted to take care of Jesus’ body properly right then and there, but they would be breaking the call of worship that God had asked of them, so instead they rested. I don’t think they rested very well by the sound of things because the Scripture tells us that at the first sign of dawn Mary Magdalene was among the women who rushed to the tomb, wondering how they would get the stone rolled away to accomplish their task.
After they saw the tomb was empty, John’s gospel tells us that she remained in the garden crying her heart out in grief. And then the most sacred human experience was given to her; she was the first to see the resurrected Jesus (John 20:1-18). And this brings us to the reason she is so controversial.
Why did Jesus appear to her? She was a woman and therefore was not considered a reliable witness. History soon began to mar her story and take way the simple meaning anyone could conclude. Mary of Magdalene was the first to see Jesus because Jesus was her life. She couldn’t leave the garden tomb because she had no place to go if He did not show her. Of course, Jesus showed up to tell her what to do next. She was faithful to obey. Mary Magdalene was a woman of total devotion and practical service to Jesus.
She is a great example for all of us to follow.