Saint Mary Magdalene, 22 July 2014

Judith 9:1, 11-14
Psalm 42:1-7
II Corinthians 5:14-18
St. John 20:11-18

Note:  This commentary on the propers for Saint Mary Magdalen was written especially for Saint Mark's Church, Santa Clara, California, who will be celebrating her day on Sunday, 20 July 2014.  If you would like to see the commentary on Proper 11, please click here:

Background: Mary Magdalene
Considered a peer of the Apostles in the Eastern Church, it is time for a renewal of thanksgiving and consideration for the life and ministry of Mary Magdalene in the West.  She was one of several women who followed Jesus and was involved with the community that gathered about him.  A great deal of legend and speculation has attached itself to her story, not all of it edifying or appreciative.  Most telling of her is her presence at the Resurrection.  Her connection to health and healing through Jesus commends her well enough, but her witness to the Risen One is her supreme commendation.  It is her witness, “I have seen the Lord”, that propelled the Easter Message not only amongst the disciples, but throughout the world as well. 

The involvement of her story in the fiction of Dan Brown and others has brought attention to her, but much of it the attention of controversy and speculation.  Such ideas have not been limited to our time.  Earlier times speculated on her importance, influence, and role, and she has not been well served by it.  In our time it seems that she serves as a good focal point for discussion and discovery of the ministry of women in the church.  That is the reason why we have moved this feast day to a Sunday, to rejoice and give thanks for the ministry of Mary Magdalene and other women.

First Reading: Judith 9:1, 11-14

Judith fell prostrate, put ashes upon her head, and uncovered the sackcloth she was wearing. Just as the evening incense was being offered in the temple of God in Jerusalem, Judith cried loudly to the Lord: “Your strength is not in numbers, nor does your might depend upon the powerful.  You are God of the lowly, helper of those of little account, supporter of the weak, protector of those in despair, savior of those without hope. “Please, please, God of my father, God of the heritage of Israel, Master of heaven and earth, Creator of the waters, King of all you have created, hear my prayer! Let my deceitful words* k wound and bruise those who have planned dire things against your covenant, your holy temple, Mount Zion, and the house your children possess. Make every nation and every tribe know clearly that you are God, the God of all power and might, and that there is no other who shields the people of Israel but you alone.”

Gustav Klimt, "Judith"

Originally written in Hebrew, this Jewish book (novel, as some call it) has only come down to us in Greek and Latin editions.  Written around the time of the Seleucid domination of Palestine in the second century BCE, this work looks back to an earlier time to tell a story at the time of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon.  The message of the book is quite simple – a message of God’s protection of the Jewish people in all kinds of adversities.  That a woman (in her time a weak vessel of God’s grace and a widow as well) becomes a tool of God’s protection should not be lost on us. 

Our reading for today consists of prayer that Judith makes in advance of the real adventure of the book – her defeat and murder of the General Holofornes.  The prayer is important, however, for assigning to the “weak and lowly” (a theme enjoyed by Luke) victory and defeat of the enemies of the Jewish People.  She becomes God’s justice and agent, and yet she assigns the success to God’s doing, not her own.

Breaking open Judith:
  1. Why does the author of Judith pick a widow to be his heroine?
  2. What does Judith’s prayer say about her faith?
  3. What do you think of her actions?

Psalm 42:1-7 Quemadmodum

As the deer longs for streams of water,*
so my soul longs for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God, the living God.*
When can I enter and see the face of God?

My tears have been my bread day and night,*
as they ask me every day, “Where is your God?”

Those times I recall as I pour out my soul,
When I would cross over to the shrine of the Mighty One, *
to the house of God, Amid loud cries of thanksgiving,
with the multitude keeping festival.

Why are you downcast, my soul;
why do you groan within me?*
Wait for God, for I shall again praise him,
my savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me;
therefore I remember you*
From the land of the Jordan* and Hermon,
from Mount Mizar,

This psalm, which seems to be filled with sorrow, also anticipates great joy.  It seems the perfect accompaniment to the story of Mary Magdalene in the Gospel for today.  What are present in the psalm: a thirst for God, tears, crying, groaning, and finally praise.  All could be assigned to the Magdalene as well.  There is also a theme of waiting, appropriate to the cause of Mary, who has waited for ages to recognize her ministry and apostleship.

Breaking open Psalm 42:
  1. Do you have a “thirst for God”?  Why?  Why not?
  2. How does the theme of waiting have a presence in the psalm?
  3. Does faith sometimes lead to depression?

Second Reading: II Corinthians 5:14-18

For the love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died. He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. Consequently, from now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer. So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation.

In this reading St. Paul moves beyond the materiality of the Incarnation, recognizing that we know “Christ according to the flesh,” realizing that the Risen and Ascended One is no longer in the flesh of this life.  Like the Risen One, we are a new creation.  Perhaps this is why Mary didn’t recognize the Lord – he was now something new and different, as was she.  Paul doesn’t want us to weep, as Mary did, over the loss of the past.  What was expected was not seen – something over and above that was what was expected.  Now we are in relationship with God through Christ.

Breaking open II Corinthians:
  1. What does it mean to you that God was incarnate in the flesh of Jesus?
  2. What does your body mean to you?
  3. How does your body embody the faith?

The Holy Gospel: Saint John 20:11-18

But Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping.  And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,”* which means Teacher. Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and what he told her.

What are the themes that bubble up from the ministry of Jesus with the disciples that are encapsulated here?  First there is the theme of misunderstanding, or not recognizing.  How often had the disciples not gotten it, and misunderstood the intentions of Jesus.  So here, Mary weeps over the lost body of Jesus, and does not recognize him when he appears.  A second theme is the recognition of the voice calling your name.  Jesus does not explain to Mary what had happen, nor does he describe to her who he really is.  Jesus merely says, “Mary,” and she knows and recognizes him.  The final theme is absence.  Mary cannot touch but only see the One who is to return to the Father.  Her response, however, is exemplary.  “I have seen the Lord.”

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What are Mary’s tears all about?
  2. What describes Mary’s courage best?
  3. What leaders to make the confession of Jesus at the end?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Almighty God, whose blessed Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection: Mercifully grant that by your grace we may be healed from all our infirmities and know you in the power of his unending life; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, how and for ever.  Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2014, Michael T. Hiller


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