There is much speculation and many opinions about Mary Magdalene. She is the first preacher of the good news of the resurrection. She is the apostle to the apostles. She is the faithful one who not only stood at the foot of the cross, but she sat opposite the tomb watching. She was there when Jesus was crucified, she was there when they laid him in the tomb, and she was there when he rose. She was also there accompanying him in his ministry. This image of Mary we can put together from what is written of her in the four canonical gospels.
Another image of Mary Magdalene that prevails, and sadly has been promoted, is that of the sinful woman. Thus she stands as the example of the power of Jesus’ forgiveness. Though this image of Mary has been passed down for centuries, there is nothing written in the canonical gospels that identifies her as a sinful woman or as the woman who anointed the feet of Jesus. In fact there is no mention of Mary anointing Jesus at any time, and while she brought spices to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus, that task became unnecessary.
There is something else written of Mary Magdalene in two of the four Gospels. In both Mark and Luke there is a reference to seven demons having been cast out of her. This phrase has been misconstrued to portray Mary as a sinful woman. No doubt, Mary was a sinner, but no worse than any of us. There are other examples in the gospels of people being freed from their demons, but I have never heard of any of them being portrayed as sinful.
This portrayal of Mary as being released of her demons is not a reference to a sinful state, but rather it is a testimony to the depth of her relationship and openness to Jesus. Of all disciples and apostles mentioned, Mary Magdalene is the only one who has let all her demons go. The number seven suggests she has let all of them go. She has not clung to any to comfort her ego. She is now free, has allowed herself to be freed, so she can focus on Jesus. Mary is the purified one, the enlightened one, the true disciple, the real apostle. Nothing could hold her back from following. Nothing could keep her away from the cross of her beloved, or from sitting staring at the tomb. She was not held back by the human reason which would say that there is no use going to that tomb when you can’t move that stone. No demon of doubt could bind her soul from truly knowing resurrection, that bursting forth of life from no life. No demon of fear or timidity stifled her in preaching that good news to her brother disciples and her sister disciples, because her beloved one asked her to do it. It was a task done not from duty but from love. Mary alone is the credible witness.
She is a patroness of our Order. What a model to accompany us! She challenges us to let go of the demons that hold us back. We may be bound up by demons, as the rest of the disciples seemed to be. Perhaps, these are the demons of power, duality, human logic; the demons of doubt, fear, self-preservation or self-righteousness. Whatever our demons we, like Mary, can let them go in order to be credible witnesses in our preaching.
Elizabeth Ferguson, OP