A Reflection on John 20:1-11a, N.A.B.
By: Larry T
The four Gospels mention Mary Magdalene (Mary of Magdala) at least twelve times, which is more often than most of the apostles are mentioned. Is Mary Magdalene the sister of Martha and Lazarus? No, the sister of Martha and Lazarus is Mary of Bethany. The Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Saint Mary Magdalene on July 22nd, and the feast of Saints Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany on July 29th.
Was Mary of Magdala a virgin? Possibly. Saint John Chrysostom (349-407 A.D.) and Saint Ambrose (340–397 A.D.) both suggested that Mary Magdalene was a virgin.
Was Mary of Magdala a prostitute? Probably not. Attempts at merging Mary Magdalene, Mary the sister of Lazarus, and the penitent woman (Luke 7:36-50 N.A.B.) into one person began as early as 591 A.D. However, instructions included with the 1969 revision of the Roman Calendar stipulated that the feast of Saint Mary Magdalene is solely that of the woman to whom Christ appeared and not that of the sister of Lazarus or the penitent woman.
In his apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem ("On the dignity and vocation of women", part 67-69) dated 15 August 1988, Pope John Paul II dealt with the Easter events in relation to the women being present at the tomb after the Resurrection, in a section entitled 'First Witnesses of the Resurrection':
“The women are the first at the tomb. They are the first to find it empty. They are the first to hear 'He is not here. He has risen, as he said. (Mt 28:6) They are the first to embrace his feet.(cf. Mt 28:9) The women are also the first to be called to announce this truth to the Apostles.(Mt 28:1-10, Lk 24:8-11) The Gospel of John ( also Mark 16:9) emphasizes the special role of Mary Magdalene. She is the first to meet the Risen Christ. Hence she came to be called "the apostle of the Apostles". Mary Magdalene was the first eyewitness of the Risen Christ, and for this reason she was also the first to bear witness to him before the Apostles. This event, in a sense, crowns all that has been said previously about Christ entrusting divine truths to women as well as men.” - John Paul II
In the following reading we see that Mary of Magdala was the first to arrive at Jesus’ tomb, and the last to leave. Peter and the other disciple came, saw the empty tomb, and returned home.
1 On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.
2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don‘t know where they put him.”
3 So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
4 They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first;
5 he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
6 When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,
7 and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
8 Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed.
9 For they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead.
10 Then the disciples returned home.
11a But Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. – John 20:1-11a, N.A.B.
Why was Mary Magdalene so devoted to Jesus? Her dedication to him probably began when he exorcised seven demons from her and cured several other women of evil spirits and infirmities (Luke 8:2 N.A.B.). In response Mary and the group of women began to follow Jesus, some supported him financially, while others tended to his needs (Mark 15:41 N.A.B., Matthew 27:55, 56 N.A.B., Luke 8:3 N.A.B.). Does this group of women, led by Mary Magdalene, exemplify the correct response to the Lord for answered prayer and healing? On a larger scale could they represent wounded humanity in need of physical and spiritual healing, and having received it from Jesus, remained uniquely faithful to him? That women still remain uniquely faithful to the Lord is evident by the way they continue to minister to his Church through their involvement in various lay ministries and many parish activities.
Mary Magdalene must have watched Jesus perform miracles, exorcisms, and healings. Likewise she would have listened to Jesus’ teachings and probably witnessed his confrontations with the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes. Her actions at the empty tomb confirms that she and the other women had an exceptional bond to Jesus, and that she was more than qualified to become a foundational character in the earliest Christian community.
The Resurrection is the most important event in Christianity, without it Jesus would have been just another Jewish prophet that had been put to death. God handpicked Mary Magdalene, a woman in a male-dominated world, as his messenger to announce the Good News of the Resurrection to the disciples. This is why Saint Augustine (354-430 A.D.) called her apostle to the Apostles.