Feast of St. Mary Magdalene

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For the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene we recommend this drawing of her by Leonardo Da Vinci.

Think of the ways women are described and dismissed: Flighty, spendthrift, extravagant, talkative, impractical, foolish. Foolish women make scenes. We’ve just described Mary Magdalene, whose feast we celebrate today.

Matthew tells the story in the 26th chapter of his gospel. Jesus is eating in the home of Simon the Leper. A woman comes into the house “with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment.” Matthew stresses the value of the jar. It is alabaster, by definition expensive, but Matthew adds the adjective “costly.”

A practical woman might have offered to sell the jar and give the proceeds to Jesus’ ministry. But this woman is not practical; she is in love.

She pours the oil on Jesus’ head as he sits at table. She anoints him, drenching him in costly oil.

The disciples are angry. They mutter, “Why this waste?” (One wonders if they mean the oil or the woman before them or both.)

They point out that the oil could have been sold and the money given to the poor.

But Jesus silences them. They have emphasized the value of the spilt oil while ignoring the treasure in their midst: God Incarnate and the woman who sees and knows the One she anoints. Jesus says, “By pouring this ointment on my body she prepared me for burial.” (Recall that in Judaism and Christianity, preparing a body for burial and conducting the burial is a commanded work of mercy.)

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord.’

He continues, “Truly, I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

Mary Magdalene is not afraid of the disapproving disciples. She continues to follow Jesus. John’s gospel tells of her “standing near the cross” with “his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Clopas.”

John describes the scene at Jesus’ tomb “early on the first day of the week.” Mary Magdalene has come to the tomb, perhaps to pray and mourn. Instead, she finds the tomb empty. There she encounters the risen Christ, though she doesn’t recognize him and guesses that he is a gardener.

Jesus asks, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”

She begs this stranger to tell her if he has removed the beloved body from the tomb.

He calls her by name, “Mary!” And she knows, all at once, she knows.

She answers, “Rabbouni!” (Master!)

Jesus tells her to share this news with her brothers, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord.’ (John 20:18a)

Mary Magdalene is known as “the apostle to the apostles,” because she was the first to announce the good news of Christ’s rising from the dead.