“When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him.” (Mark 15:41)
At times we foolishly presume that our lives must be perfectly aligned for God to minister through us. We think that in order for Christ to create something worthwhile, we must present him an impeccable canvas. Few things are further from the truth.
To read the gospels is to encounter flawed men and women whom God used in world-shattering ways to advance his kingdom. Mary Magdalene is such a person. She occupied a front-row seat to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and mentors us in the invaluable lessons of character, perseverance, and whole-hearted commitment to Christ.
We are introduced to Mary in Matthew 27, Mark 15 & 16, Luke 8 and John 20. These verses catalogue this unsung heroine, a dynamic lady who demonstrated behind-the-scenes compassion, generosity, and servanthood. Her story is not usually listed in the hierarchy of saints. It should be.
Mary was part of a band of women who followed Christ from Galilee all the way to Jerusalem. When the various women who ministered to Jesus are recognized, her name is usually listed first, perhaps denoting her leadership role or the significance of her impact. Her primary distinction was that of a loyal follower of Christ who ministered to him while so many were trying to extinguish his life. In contrast, we are often the ones demanding that he minister to us.
Mary of Magdala was close to the cross, “looking on from a distance,” when darkness descended over the land from the sixth hour to the ninth. She would have heard Christ’s very last words as he endured the cruelest form of torture. Eyewitness to his agony on the cross, Mary would have been right there when all our iniquities were laid on him. As the sin transfer of the world took place, she was close enough to hear his excruciating cry, “Eli Eli. Lama Sabachtanni. My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?”
Joseph buried Christ in his own tomb, and we discover Mary there, too, sitting opposite. Her fierce loyalty refused to abandon Jesus even though no mention is made of any of his disciples being present. Fear had caused them to flee to safety, but Mary’s was a courageous love without limits, unwavering in devotion, attentive even to the end. After Joseph rolled the stone in front of the tomb, the Scriptures give no indication of how long she sat there grieving the loss of her beloved Master.
In John 20, one of the most riveting chapters in the Gospels, Mary and the other women return and enter the garden in the dark. Just as they had spent money to support him and care for his physical needs as he traversed the countryside, they now bring spices purchased to anoint the body of the Lord.
Mary’s courage is never more visible than when she confronts the man she believed to be a gardener by the empty tomb. (The Scriptures make it clear that this event occurred in the early morning darkness, making it impossible for her to recognize his face.) Willing to go to any length to recover Christ’s body, she demands, “Tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Remarkable woman! Faced with what she believed was a horrific crime, Mary was willing to carry the dead body of the Lord back to safety regardless of what that might entail.
The risen Lord asked Mary, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Ever compassionate, he noticed her tears and engaged her in conversation rather than startle her with his presence. The moment he called her name, Mary recognized the voice of her Savior. He commissioned her with the vital task of alerting his disciples to his resurrection. Jesus knew he could trust his faithful friend to deliver the news that would turn the entire world upside-down. For the rest of her life I imagine she repeated to everyone within earshot this miraculous encounter. She had seen with her own eyes that Jesus was alive!
I want to stand up and applaud this woman who represented all of us so well. Thank you, Mary, for being there, for not slinking away in fear, for not allowing all those who were against Jesus to persuade you to abandon him when he needed someone to care for him, to stick by him, to stay close. Darkness was descending all around him, and you didn’t let any of that scare you away.
Earlier in her life, Jesus had rescued Mary from seven demons. He had saved her from slavery to demonic forces, and she simply never got over his intervention and healing. May we be much more like Mary and emulate the unwavering commitment that propelled her to sacrifice on his behalf.
Elizabeth A Mitchell