Mary – or Miriam – seems to have been a common feminine name in Jesus’s time, for there are several women in the Gospels who bear it. First of course is Jesus’s mother; then there is Mary Salome, close relative of Mother Mary, and possibly Jesus’s aunt and the wife of Zebedee. Next we have the two sisters, Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus, close friends of Jesus. Finally we have Mary of Magdala or Magdalen, one of the women who followed Jesus and provided for him and his apostles. She stood by with his mother under the cross, and was the first person to whom he revealed himself after his resurrection.
The Gospels do not say much more, and we must be careful not to confuse Mary Magdalen with Mary of Bethany who poured a whole bottle of perfume over Jesus’s feet a few days before his passion, nor with the anonymous woman who did the same when Jesus was dining with a pharisee friend earlier. All that the Gospel of Luke says is that Jesus cured Mary of an acute case of demonic possession, and that she loyally followed him thereafter – even to the foot of the cross, after his other disciples had fled.
Mary’s finest moment was that early hour on Easter morning, when standing disconsolate before the empty tomb, she mistakes Jesus for the gardener. It took Jesus just one word to change her mood completely. Jesus utters Mary’s name, and the young woman, recog-nized and acknowledged in the depths of her soul, cries out, Rabboni, “my master!”, and makes to touch his feet. But Jesus instead sends her on a mission, “Go and tell my brothers — !” Mary is the first “apostle to the apostles”.
The Gospels are full of precious insights like these, where Jesus turns the lives of ordinary people around and gives them the confidence to take on a new role. He does this to the Samaritan woman, to the pagan woman fromSyriawho asked him to cure her daughter, to the woman caught in adultery. Mary Magdalen is the first of a whole line of women who proclaim the good news to the church and the world.