Mary & The Gospel of Luke
To find out more about Mary’s significance and connection with Jesus, one needs to go back and dive into Jesus’ adulthood. The first time Mary Magdalene appears in the gospels is when she arrives at a Pharisee’s house whom Jesus was visiting. This Pharisee is named Simon. This reading is found in the gospel of Luke, and what is interesting about it is that she is not explicitly named. Many infer that its Mary Magdalene, but Syriac traditions have another perspective. Susan Ashbrook Harvey, a well known professor of religious studies has dove into representations of women in the gospels, and has noticed that this “unnamed” woman has been able to “Merit[ed] her own attention.” (Harvey pg. 149) Syriac homilist believe that she should not be confused with Mary of Bethany or even Mary Magdalene, for her specific actions are of huge symbolism. To have a clear idea of what the “sinful woman” did, the gospel of Luke says,
A woman in that town who lived a sinful life...came there with an alabaster jar of perfume...Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them…. Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair…Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:37-43)
Simon, The Pharisee knew that his guest was prophet, a man of great wisdom, but never believed or thought he was the Son of God. He doesn’t even show the most basic signs of hospitality, which are the cleansing and ointment of feet. There is a Syriac homily that expands on this gospel story and adds an extra touch of excitement and drama. The narrative starts with the sinful woman deciding to sell her opulent garments and buying an expensive perfume instead. Originally she would use inexpensive perfume and high-end clothing, but once she hears that Jesus is in town, she has a change of heart. That change of heart is embodied in the perfume. This expensive ointment is an “epistemological tool and a sacramental indicator” of the sinful woman’s love and sincere devotion to Jesus Christ. (Harvey pg. 150) This love which ultimately leads to forgiveness, shows the virtues needed to be forgiven. In this case it’s being able to notice one’s wrong doings and not just asking for forgiveness, but actually showing it through faith and devoutness. Even though Syriac tradition does not believe the sinful woman is Mary Magdalene, it is still of great significance to her portrayal. Both of these characters were sinful marginalized woman who were accepted and forgiven by Jesus Christ.
Syrian Tradition & Hospitality
Ephrem the Syrian was a theologian and hymnographer in the 4th century. He wrote another homily which also adds on to this gospel story. He tries to add emphasis once again on the woman’s actions, especially how important it was to perform these arrangements on Jesus. Harvey elaborates on this and says “Ephrem insists that the Woman’s actions superseded liturgical function because they were offered directly to God’s divine self…That sinful woman…came to God, not to priests.” (Harvey pg. 151) The sinful woman could have decided to go anywhere else for the forgiveness of her sins, but she decides to visit the house of a Pharisee. Imagine, a sinful woman who is hated by the town, decides to knock on the door of one the elite people in the community, without a prior invitation. Not just that, but once she enters the household, she proceeds to perform hospitable rituals, which were not her duties in the first place. All these specific moments show Jesus’ greatness. The fact that an elite member wasn’t hospitable, but a “sinful” woman was, gives once again the notion that the marginalized are just as important as the “elite”. The actions being performed are not just simple rituals, but a sacramental gathering. A sacramental gathering and bond between the sinful woman and Jesus. After she cleansed Jesus’ feet, she was saved. She was forgiven of her sins and destined for salvation. This woman exemplifies devotion and faith.
Once again, any biblical writing is up for interpretation, but Mary Magdalene could have been this woman. Luke has a huge focus on women and the marginalized, but Magdalene stands out because she was present at the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. This woman was given a name in both instances. It is interesting that she is not given a name at Simon the Pharisees house, but it’s clear that the woman was or was just like Mary Magdalene. A sinful woman, who’s main desire was forgiveness and a new life. Mary had two huge issues, especially during that time, not only was she a sinner, but she was a woman who sinned. During Ancient Israel, the role of women was strictly limited. They were considered inferior to men, and confined to their husband or at a young age their father. Imagine a woman like Mary Magdalene, sleeping with many men, wearing whatever she pleased, smelling however way she wanted; people were just simply disgusted. Then comes a man, who proclaims himself to be the Son of God and accepts this woman and many others as well. Jesus knew that the world had to notice that everyone is forgiven in the eyes of God, even women such as Mary Magdalene. The marginalized are of such importance for God that a marginalized woman of the night was the chosen one to witness Jesus’ resurrection. Mary Magdalene will continue to live on as not only a sinful woman, but a sinful woman who was forgiven, accepted and saved by Jesus.
Mary Magdalene at the Cross
Mary Magdalene played an essential role in the life of Jesus Christ. Aside from being labeled a “harlot”, she developed a strong bond with Jesus that would continue through his resurrection. Matthew, Mark, and John all write about Mary’s inclusion in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Luke, on the other hand, fails to mention any reports that Mary was present at the one of the most important events in Jesus’ life. In Mark’s gospel it says, “There were also some women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the Less and Joses, and Salome” (Mark 15:40). A pivotal moment in Jesus’ life and Mary was a witness to it. She was present along with another important figure in like Jesus’ mother, Mary.
Mary Magdalene in Scripture
Each of the evangelists, except Luke, claims Mary was present at the crucifixion of Jesus. Luke also fails to mention that she was present at the resurrection of Jesus. Instead, Luke only mentions Mary Magdalene when speaking on her demonic possessions. It says, “ and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out” (Luke 8:2). Many argue that Mary was not more than the harlot some describe her as, but the gospels show that she had a significant role in Jesus’s life.