A sermon preached April 21, 2013 at Peakland United Methodist Church the Sunday after the Boston Marathon bombing. The texts for the sermon were Psalm 23, Revelation 7:9-17, and John 10:22-30.
Mary Magdalene is one of the few women who are named as followers of Jesus. Mary is often listed first among these names. She is often portrayed in movies, including Jesus Christ Superstar and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, as a prostitute. Why? Mary Magdalene is often connected with the woman of the street who breaks the jar of perfume and washes Jesus’ feet in Luke 7. In Luke’s Gospel this woman is nameless. Mary Magdalene first appears in Luke 8. As scholar Fred Craddock points out, “Only popular legend has made her a prostitute.” Luke’s eighth chapter tells the reader that Mary was healed of seven demons. Craddock observes, “Demon possession caused various maladies of body and mind but not moral or ethical depravity.”
Mary plays a significant role in the Gospel story. All four gospels account for Mary being present at the death of Christ. More importantly, Mary was the first witness of the resurrected Lord. In Luke’s account of the resurrection, the two men “in dazzling apparel” tell the women, “Remember how he told you . . .” (Luke 24:4,6). This assumes that Mary Magdalene and the other women were apart of the inner circle of Jesus’ followers. The dazzling men are under the impression that these women were present when Jesus predicted his death and resurrection (“Remember how he told you”).
Luke continues the narrative saying that the women “remembered his words” (24:8). The women are told to go and tell the disciples what has taken place. They recalled what Jesus had said and told the eleven and “all the rest” (Luke 24:8-9). As Craddock points out, these women were not “errand runners for disciples; they were disciples.”
Mary Magdalene, the woman saved from seven demons, is one of the first witnesses of the Resurrected Christ. Her role in being one of the first to communicate the resurrection to others, places her among the Bible’s major players.
How are you living as a witness of the Resurrected Christ?
Resources: Craddock, Fred B. Luke. John Knox Press, 1990.
by Rev. April Casperson
When I read this familiar narrative in John, I’m struck at how the author tells us how Jesus feels, what Jesus does, and how Jesus explains himself. It’s a fascinating glimpse of the consistency between the inner and outer life of Jesus Christ.
Jesus knew that his time on this world had come to an end, and he felt love for those who were in the world. He could have stopped caring, or begun to transition away from being in deep relationship with humanity. And yet, he chose to remain in relationship. Even more radically, he chose to continue to love those in this world until the very end.
Jesus even took his love a step further, demonstrating to the disciples what it meant to be a servant. He participated in a familiar ritual of foot-washing in the middle of a meal, knowing that the disciples would not understand what they were observing. Even so, he continued in the midst of confused questioning, making the ritual both a teaching moment and a tangible demonstration of his love.
Finally, after we read through Jesus’ explanation of the foot-washing ritual, the very next verse (verse 21) states that Jesus was troubled. How unexpected! For Jesus, following his call towards redeeming the world, demonstrating his role as a servant, and embodying his role as a teacher didn’t bring him peace. Instead, he was troubled about what was still to come.
What a striking reminder this is for us. How often are we troubled, even when we follow our calls, live as servant-leaders, and try to make our lives a teaching witness? Maybe we are troubled when we don’t see instant results. Or perhaps we let ourselves do these things in hopes that the actions will settle our souls, rather than the hope that the world will be transformed. And yet, God doesn’t call us to be comfortable or to do good works because they make us feel good in return. God calls us to live faithful lives, and to transform the world, because of the life, work and example of Jesus Christ.
This Lenten season, consider your motivations. Have you allowed your motivations to become of this world, rather than grounded in the call of God?
In this season, may be all be reminded of the One who calls us, and the One who is to be our motivation for service to the world.
Rev. April Casperson is an ordained deacon serving as the Director of Enrollment Management and Scholarship Development at Methodist Theological School in Ohio.