She ran… she told… She had seen the risen Lord! (John 20:2, 18) According to John 20:1-2, 11-18, Mary Magdalene was the first to see Jesus after he had been raised from death. And her announcing to the disciples that she had “seen the Lord” has led to her becoming known as the “apostle to the apostles.”
From the time of Mary Magdalene’s healing by Jesus (Luke 8:2), she became a faithful follower – helping, along with other women, to provide financial support for Jesus’ ministry (Luke 8:3), following him from Galilee to Jerusalem, and witnessing his crucifixion and burial (she is named specifically in Matthew and Mark’s accounts – see Matthew 27:56, 61 and Mark 15:40, 47). Luke introduces her into the Gospel narrative by listing her first among the women who became followers of Jesus and who under-girded his ministry with their own resources. That she is listed first is quite possibly indicative of her role as a leader among this group of women.
Besides being named in all four canonical Gospels, Mary Magdalene also appears in a number of later, extracanonical texts such as the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, the First Apocalypse of James, Dialogue of the Savior, Pistis Sophia, to name a few. Yet, in spite of all these texts, little is known of her background other than that she came from Magdala, a small town located along the western shore of Lake Galilee, near Capernaum, and that she was one from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons (Luke 8:2). Over the centuries, various legends about her identity and life surfaced, and she emerged as the subject of numerous literary and artistic works. In recent years, Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code (and the plethora of commentaries that followed) gave rise to intense interest and questions surrounding her role in Jesus’ life.
Among the misrepresentations is one that was purported by the Church in the sixth century, whereby Mary Magdalene is depicted as a former prostitute based on her identification as the unnamed “sinful woman” in Luke 7:36-50. However, her formal introduction by name, two verses later in Luke 8, has been cited by scholars as evidence for disputing this characterization of her. Thus, we can now put aside this distorted, centuries-old portrayal and view her as one who exemplifies devotion and deep faith, whose actions on that first Easter morning broke through the gloom of death’s dark shadow with words of life and hope.
Among the designated biblical texts for the commemoration of Mary Magdalene, it is interesting that the two Old Testament texts highlight women whose decisive and courageous acts were key to the resulting outcomes – Moses being saved from death at birth, owing to the resourcefulness of his mother and sister, and his subsequent adoption by Pharaoh’s daughter; Ruth’s loyalty to her mother-in-law and her becoming an ancestor to both King David and Jesus (as noted in Matthew’s genealogy). Acting in faith they, like Mary, became instruments in God’s unfolding plan for humankind’s redemption.
As the “apostle to the apostles,” Mary Magdalene was called as a witness to Christ’s resurrection and to proclaim to others what she had heard and seen. As a woman of faith and devoted disciple, she now stands in the foreground as one who serves as a model for us today in sharing the good news so that lives can be changed by an encounter with the gospel message and the risen Christ.