By Bryon Bootman, CORE Team Member
July 22nd is the Feast Day of Saint Mary Magdalene. Mary Magdalene was a Jewish woman who, according to the four Gospels, traveled with Jesus as one of his followers and was a witness to his crucifixion and resurrection. The Gospel reading on her Feast Day comes from John 20: 1-2 & 11-18 in which she is the first to encounter Jesus after his Resurrection. Of Jesus’s followers mentioned in the Gospels, she may be the most misunderstood or mislabeled. There has been a persistent legend in the Church that she is the unnamed sinful woman who anointed the feet of Jesus in Luke 7:36-50. Scripture scholars today say Mary Magdalene, that is, “of Magdala,” was the one from whom Christ cast out “seven demons” (Luke 8:2). https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-mary-magdalene/
For me, the readings on her Feast Day are both beautiful and challenging. There are two options for the first reading: Song of Songs 3:1-4b and 2 Cor 5:14-17. I read the passage from Song of Songs. The readings from Song of Songs and Psalms 63 are readings of longing and searching for God. When I read the passages from the first reading and the Psalms, I think of how the writers longed and searched for God. The readings are a wonderful reminder to me to persistently seek out God. In the Song of Songs, the bride sought out the one “whom my heart loves” three times before finding “him”. In the Psalms is an acknowledgment that “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.” For me, these difficult times seem to be a never ending distraction. These passages remind me to be persistent in seeking Him out; that what I need is to not allow the distraction to become my focus, but to seek out God.
In reading the Gospel passage, Saint Mary Magdalene demonstrates to me this same message of persistently seeking out God. She actually goes to the empty tomb twice: The first time, “early in the morning, while it was still dark” to find the tomb empty; then she returns after reporting the empty tomb to the disciples. It wasn’t until the second time that the angels and then Jesus appeared to her. To me, this is both a message of persistence and a message that first perceptions are not the entire story.
It is her interaction with Christ that I find challenging for several reasons. Jesus’ message to her is probably not what she wanted to hear: “’Stop holding on to me’”. Now I don’t think that Jesus was telling her to let him go forever in a spiritual sense. I believe He was speaking about that moment and likely in regards to her perception of Him. But it was very likely something she didn’t want to hear. Afterall, she had just found him alive! Now He’s saying to her to let Him go. The challenge for me is that Jesus doesn’t always tell us what we think we need, but what He knows we need. The next thing Jesus says to Saint Mary Magdalene is also challenging. He asks her to go tell the disciples that she saw and heard. A call to witness and a call to obedience! She was called by Christ to witness about Him. It is her, as a follower (a disciple – one who learns from a teacher), who is called to share the message of Christ’s resurrection. I have this same calling from Jesus to witness to His resurrection as a disciple.
So how do I do this? For me, I think the beginning of the answer is in these readings. Seek out God persistently. Be discerning of first impressions. And be willing to listen to what Jesus has to say, even when it isn’t what I perhaps want to hear. My hope is we all can find time to persistently seek out God and to be graced with the ability to listen to what Jesus has to say to us.