Her Gospel

There's Something About Mary, part 2

The Easter narratives place us on Calvary Hill, where the rational world of control is submerged in fear, pain, and a maelstrom of emotion. As a reader or listener of those narratives, we join those women who feel the doom of day darkening as if it were night, losing everything we had hoped for, losing someone who loved us, and who made the world a better place. Their experience is ours. Everyone experiences death and loss. How do you come to terms with that?

The religious life is grappling with unspeakable tragedy and heart wrenching loss and sorrow right here in the midst of this world of infinite beauty and wonder. Lives end, and life doesn’t – and that is so strange!

The tragic and the beautiful are inextricably mixed together into one thing: not even woven together in a fabric which still has distinguishable threads, but mixed together like yellow and blue dye to make green.

Every child of God has claim to the fullness of life, to love, to justice. The resurrection stories ask us to move out of our daily roles, to be struck down with pain. But then they ask us to pick up the pieces of our lives, of all lives, by sticking around to clean up the mess, and not to be silent to what we witness in life, to what we know brings life to all beings.

That much we get from the canonical gospels. We now have reason to believe Mary Magdalene’s role was probably even greater than the four canonical gospels reveal. Later writers and Christian leaders couldn’t entirely write the Magdalene out of the script, but they did suppress her role.

In 591, Pope Gregory I invented the idea that Mary had been a prostitute. Gregory pointed to Luke, chapter 7, where there is an unnamed “sinful woman” who anoints Jesus feet. Gregory was wrong. For one thing, most scholars agree that woman was not Mary Magdalene. For another thing, “sinful woman” would cover such sins as talking to men other than her husband or going to the marketplace alone. "Sinful" doesn't mean prostitute -- even if that unnamed woman were Mary. Gregory was just making it up. It wasn’t until 1969 that the Vatican officially acknowledged Mary was not the “sinful woman” of Luke.

The official Christian Bible – the 27 books of what is called the New Testament – wasn’t established until the late 300s. The decision was made to exclude certain other texts, including a Gospel of Thomas, and a Gospel of Mary Magdalene. These texts were well known to the earlier Christians, but after exclusion from the official canon, they disappeared. They were essentially unknown for over a thousand years, until archeological discoveries in the last hundred years.

In the Gospel of Thomas, Magdalene and another woman, Salome, are among the six (not 12) true disciples of Jesus. Another Gnostic text calls her “the woman who understood all things.”

The Gospel of Mary Magdalene is brief, just 19 very small pages, and half of those are missing. In what we do have, we see the apostles fearful:
“How are we to go among the unbelievers and announce the gospel of the Kingdom of the Son of Man? They did not spare his life, so why should they spare ours?” (Gospel of Mary Magdalene, 5:1, trans. Jean-Yves Leloup and Joseph Rowe)
Without Mary’s calm leadership in those first weeks after the crucifixion, there might not be a Christianity today.
“Then Mary arose, embraced them all, and began to speak to her brothers: ‘Do not remain in sorrow and doubt, for his Grace will guide you and comfort you. Instead, let us praise his greatness, for he has prepared us for this. He is calling upon us to become fully human.’” (5:2-3)
Then Peter asks her,
“Tell us whatever you remember of any words he told you which we have not yet heard.” (5:6)
Mary relates a vision she had of their teacher, and what was said in that vision. Andrew doesn’t
“believe that the Teacher would speak like this.” (9:2)
Peter is indignant:
“How is it possible that the Teacher talked in this manner with a woman about secrets of which we ourselves are ignorant?” (9:4)
But Levi defends Mary.
“Yet if the Teacher held her worthy, who are you to reject her? Surely the Teacher knew her very well, for he loved her more than us. Therefore let us atone and become fully human.” (9:8-9)
The Gospel of Mary Magdalene ends:
“When Levi had said these words, they all went forth to spread the gospel.” (9:10)
Maybe, without Mary, they wouldn’t have.

* * *
There's Something About Mary, part 2 of 3
See also
Part 1: Witnesses to a World-Transforming Event
Part 3: Our Commission of Compassion

No comments:

Post a Comment