This is the first post of my Holy Week Meditations for 2012. Please click here for the archive list of posts as they become available.
Intimate Authority: Holy Week Meditation, 1
Why was Mary Magdalene the first disciple Jesus entrusted with the message of His resurrection? A brief meditation on her life points to intimacy with Jesus as the basis for her unique authority. His gift to her was Mercy, a free gift that nevertheless demands a response. She surrendered all to Him; her gift to Jesus was herself. His life became hers.
More than not, the Gospels describe her weeping and lingering in His Presence. That was her authority, this evidence of intimacy with Jesus. For what else better defines intimate reliance upon another but weeping and lingering? Love alone provokes tears for another; love alone compels us to wait, to abide, to linger. These simple expressions of intimacy—tears and lingering—are the basis for Mary’s authority.
Intimacy with Jesus made an ex-prostitute the bearer of the most important event in human history. No wonder the Roman Catholic Church names Mary Magdalene the ‘Apostle of the Apostles.’
Mary’s life demonstrates how Jesus exchanges false attachments for His faithful, unfailing love. False intimacy is no match for His Mercy.
Mary knew all about false intimacy. She had been a prostitute; she gave herself to others in exchange for money. The most exquisite and life-giving part of her became the site of her greatest degradation. One thing abides—the pervasive shame over treating one’s precious self as worthless.
No amount of familiarity or mental gymnastics can remove that shame. The law is written on our hearts (Romans 2:15). Conscience can be numbed but not killed. In the still of the night, after each fall, the soul longs for the imprint of strange flesh to be erased. Jesus heard Mary’s cry. He hears ours today.
Mercy alone frees us to recognize the falsehood which has entrapped us. Mercy alone liberates our repentance. Mary personifies this recognition of falsehood and repentance.
The Pharisees mirrored the truth of her falsehood; in her, they would have been the face of God: righteous, serious, scorning her degradation. One critical gaze from a religious man might have withered her, confirming her shame. The law can cause us to weep and to linger in our regret, but it cannot heal us.
Mary saw another face in the crowd, this Jesus who gathered the lost and the least in order to heal and deliver them. He looked at her too, with eyes that seemed to know all about her but did not scorn her; in truth, they seemed to be pleading for something more, something better for her…
When Mary saw Jesus eating with a Pharisee, she wanted to run over and surrender all to Him, to offer her devotion as best as she could. But she had to risk the rejection of the Pharisee—the old face of God—in order to surrender to Jesus.
And she did. She crashed the party and flung herself at Jesus’ feet. At His feet she wept tears of gratitude and repentance, repentance from her life of degradation, gratitude for the Mercy He embodied. She lingered there. Mercy washed her, its levels rose around her releasing more tears, regret and release combined. She in turn washed His feet with her offering.
She was oblivious to the heady discussion in which the Pharisee had engaged Jesus. ‘Deep calls to deep, in the roar of Your waterfalls, all Your waves and breakers have washed over me…’ (PS 42:7)
Immersed in Mercy, she barely recognized the disgust of the Pharisee toward this embarrassing display.
Her courageous devotion is our first glimpse of the intimacy that made her great. Weeping and lingering in His Presence; this was the beginning of her authority. Deeper than her sin and shame was an awareness Jesus alone could set her free. She risked everything to be where He was.
Jesus explained to the agitated, dry-eyed Pharisee why Mary wept and lingered. ‘(S)he who has been forgiven of much will love Me much; (s)he who is forgiven of little will love Me little.’ (Lk 7:47)