THREE VERSES THAT FOREVER CHANGED MY IMAGINATION:
These three verses appeared out of nowhere for me. I was studying Luke/Acts in the 1990’s. It seemed I had never seen these verses, these women, before:
Soon afterwards Jesus went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.Luke 8:1-3 NRSV
What? Jesus’ traveling group included women? Not just any women, but women of means who were the underwriters, the cooks and bottlewashers, I imagine, and the fellow witnesses and learners on The Way? Who were these women? And why is Mary Magdalene the one most named, most active, in the Jesus story?
Of course in the last thirty years, my imagination has been fed on excellent scholarship and feminist readings and artists’ rendering of the women in Jesus’ life. Cynthia Bourgeault’s book, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman and the Heart of Christianity (Shambhala, 2010) turns the person and role of Mary Magdalene over and over, like a rock in a tumbler. A beautiful and shining gem of wisdom emerges. It is Cynthia’s imagination that forms the doorway through which I am taking you. My own imagination takes its own turns and tumbles, as will yours.
I take as my premise the thesis of Cynthia’s book. In response to the concern about “all the Mary’s” in the gospel texts, this is her contention:
…what if [scripture reflects] a distribution [to various women] of the assets that originally belonged to one unique, individual woman? The contemplative attunement of a Mary of Bethany, the incorruptible spiritual purity of a Virgin Mary, the erotic devotion of a penitent whore – and or course, the bold tenacious witness of one so named as Mary Magdalene: could these all be facets of one flesh-and-blood woman whose very fullness breaks the mold of what our tradition has taught us is possible?(Cynthia Bourgeault, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene, p. 2)
Now I am picky, very picky, about how Mary Magdalene is portrayed. If you do a google image search, which of her faces seems “real” to you? Which of her stories carries flesh and blood testimony, perhaps more vital in its freshness that the zillion layers of Jesus stories that have shaped our hearing? How is she speaking to you?
I invite us, together, as we read traditional or non-traditional stories of this Holy Week, to picture women in every scene and every role. What do we notice? In particular, look for and feel for LOVE in all its flavors, from agony to ecstasy. Ask for Mary Magdalene to walk the week with you as a spiritual guide.