Mary of Magdala
Today is the day we remember Mary Magdalene, a woman whose name has become synonymous with prostitution, maligned by history and yet a Beloved of Jesus. In the 8th chapter of Luke we are told,
Now after this [Jesus] made his way through towns and villages preaching, and proclaiming the
Good News of the kingdom of God. With him went the Twelve, as well as certain women
who had been cured of evil spirits and ailments: Mary surnamed the Magdalene, from whom
seven demons had gone out, Joanna the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and several
others who provided for them out of their own resources.
and from that one line grew the assumption that she was guilty of sexual sins.
Instead we might remember Mary as one whose life was forever changed by an encounter with Jesus, healed and forgiven, freed from the captivity of whatever her demons were. I cringe to think of the demons I have struggled with, the temptations and behaviors that have tainted my reputation. I don't think I have ever been accused of being a prostitute, but I know I have been lumped in with people who do not walk the mainline of religion, politics and social propriety...and that has cost me my vocation, peace of mind, and great fear. However, I too have been changed by an encounter with Jesus, the Risen Lord, and no man can take away that peace of mind, that balm of Gilead, that holy water into which I fall whenever the world raises its ugly head (aka the demons come out.) Love casts out all fears.
I can only imagine what Mary is thinking in this George de la Tour painting. She is transfixed by the light, head in hand, skeleton in her lap, shoulders bare. Many great scholars over the years have written about her, projected their demons on to her, assigned her to various categories of mental illness and troubles. What do you think?
Every year on this day, I receive Malcolm Guite's sonnet about Mary, and I choose to agree with him about her. Enjoy listening and reflecting and see what you decide about this beloved Mary of Magdala.
Men called you light so as to load you down,
And burden you with their own weight of sin,
A woman forced to cover and contain
Those seven devils sent by Everyman.
But one man set you free and took your part
One man knew and loved you to the core
The broken alabaster of your heart
Revealed to Him alone a hidden door,
Into a garden where the fountain sealed,
Could flow at last for him in healing tears,
Till, in another garden, he revealed
The perfect Love that cast out all your fears,
And quickened you with love's own sway and swing,
As light and lovely as the news you bring.
Mary Magdalene has been represented in many different ways throughout history, especially during the Baroque and Renaissance periods.
Painted by French Baroque painter Georges de La Tour Magdalen with the Smoking Flame, c. 1640, is housed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Image Source: Wikipedia