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Love and Knowing Become One

Mary Magdalene

Love and Knowing Become One
Sunday, July 19, 2020

This week I’m excited to share another wonderful model of action and contemplation, Mary Magdalene. One of Jesus’ closest disciples, the Catholic Church celebrates her feast day on July 22.  My friend Cynthia Bourgeault tells a story about the moment when she told an older priest friend that she was writing a book about Mary Magdalene. She recounts, “He looked at me long and hard, as only an old friend can, and then said, ‘Go gently. Try not to leave me behind.’” [1] I, too, will try to “go gently” in these meditations on Mary Magdalene, yet at the same time, I want to challenge our preconditioned and possibly mistaken ideas about who this woman was.

For over a millennium, Mary of Magdala was misidentified as the woman with the alabaster jar who was called a “sinner” and who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair (Luke 7:36–50). While we may never know for certain if those two women were the same or separate individuals, the conflation has confused Christianity’s view of them. Either way, Jesus shows both Gospel women nothing but respect, forgiveness, and love.

What we do know about Mary Magdalene is that she was the woman who was closest to Jesus. She was “possessed by seven demons” and Jesus healed her (Luke 8:2). She is mentioned in the Resurrection accounts by name in all four Gospels, sometimes alone, sometimes in the company of other women. [2] She was the first to meet the risen Christ. The fact that she immediately went to embrace him is a testament to the closeness of their relationship, the mutual regard and affection they must have shared. When Jesus said to her “Don’t cling to me” (John 20:17), he was indicating that the time for physical closeness was in the past. Mary’s love had to release the finite in order to reach a more expansive, spiritual dimension.

Mary Magdalene is the person in the Gospel who most needs love to be stronger than death and so she is the first to know it—and perhaps at the deepest level. She is the first one who symbolically comes to “consciousness,” as it were, of Jesus as the risen Christ and thus is the clear “witness to the witnesses.” She is the real knower; in fact, love and knowing have become one in her. Mary is the archetypal name for all those who have been led by love into awareness of their True Selves and know its Source.

Mary Magdalene is the icon and archetype of love itself—needed, given, received, and passed on. She is a stand-in for all of us who seek an intimate and loving relationship with the divine. Jesus’ appearance to her first and alone is the clear affirmation of the wonderful and astounding message that we do not need to be perfect to be the beloved of Jesus and God.

References:
[1] Cynthia Bourgeault, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity (Shambhala Publications: 2010), ix. In this book, Cynthia does an excellent job addressing the “melding” of Mary Magdalene with the woman with the alabaster jar.

[2] See Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40–41; Luke 24:10; and John 20:1.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013), 180‒181; and

Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2001, 2013), 73.

Image credit: Mary Magdalene with Jesus the Christ (middle panel of the triptych The Succession of Mary Magdalene) (detail), Janet McKenzie, 2009, Collection of Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, Illinois. Used with permission of the artist. www.janetmckenzie.com
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Mary Magdalene is the icon and archetype of love itself—needed, given, received, and passed on—and Jesus’ appearance to her first and alone is the clear affirmation of the wonderful and astounding message that we do not need to be perfect to be the beloved of Jesus and God. —Richard Rohr
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