By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published April 14, 2011
When I was a kid, Mary Magdalene was just another distant saint. She stood there in the picture books looking all rosy cheeked and rather lovely. I had some fuzzy idea that she had been a sinner, although I didn’t know what she had done.
My own sins revolved mostly around tormenting my older sister, but somehow I figured Mary Magdalene’s version would be more interesting.
In my 20s, I learned what Mary’s sins were supposedly all about, but by then I no longer thought that her actions, interesting or not, were a problem. In fact, nothing was a sin anymore because I had discarded all the beliefs that had grounded me in childhood, such as God, heaven, hell—and, oh yes, grace and redemption.
It’s more than that: I love her because I know there must have been a turning point in her life, when she moved from the snares of the devil to the embrace of Jesus. She is to me a true emblem of grace and redemption and a beautiful reminder of what Holy Week is all about.
Scripture tells us that Jesus cast out seven demons from her, so I’m thinking that Mary’s life before meeting Christ wasn’t exactly sunshine and roses. She was in the clutches of Satan, and he was her master, the one known as the father of lies.
But at some point she had a turnaround. What happened, I have to wonder? Did one of her lovers beat her up? Did another one curse her? Did she lose someone she dearly loved? And hit rock bottom?
Perhaps someone told her about this man who was going around healing people. They also might have mentioned that Jesus appeared rather ordinary, at least until you looked into his eyes. And they might have gone on to say that they could not describe what they saw, except that no one else’s eyes had such depth, such tenderness and such pure love.
There had to come a moment, though, when she decided to seek him out.
Although Scripture does not specifically name Mary Magdalene in a very stirring scene in Luke’s Gospel, tradition says that she is the woman who went to see Jesus at the house of a Pharisee, where he was dining. In she came, very suddenly and dramatically, which means she had probably pushed her way through the servants.
She had heard about Jesus and she knew she had to get to him—and nothing would stop her.
Although the host is upset by her sudden appearance, Jesus accepts her calmly. And before anyone can stop her, she has knelt before him. She uses her tears to wash Jesus’ feet, giving us a glimpse of what will come on the night before his death when he also will perform this humblest of gestures.
She serves him out of love, mirroring what he tells us in the Gospels—that he came into the world not to be served but to serve. Still, in this scene, he allows her to serve him, because he knows that in doing so she will experience his mercy and redemption.
I wish there were more details given. I wish we knew about the moment when she first glanced up and looked into his eyes. But all we know about the scene are the simple actions—a woman entering the room, weeping, cleansing his feet with her tears and drying them with her hair.
How earthy these gestures are! They remind us that Christ came into a real world of blood and tears, bread and wine. They remind us that he too shed tears, once when Lazarus died, and again when he entered Jerusalem on the day we call Palm Sunday.
He died on a cross, bloody and whipped, and surely with tears on his face—but still offering mercy to a man dying next to him and to those who had killed him. And Mary Magdalene was beneath the cross, no doubt weeping again as she watched him die.
As we enter Holy Week, Mary Magdalene is a reminder of the beautiful fact that grace and redemption are offered to everyone—and they are born out of the tears and struggles of everyday life.