Tag Archives: dependance

Mary Magdalene

[Mary Magdalene is traditionally remembered on 22 July, so many churches will replace the routine readings this Sunday to turn to her story]

The “Saints” in New Testament language are defined as all faithful Christians.  Still, we often use the term for those best known, perhaps for their place in the New Testament. These have a place in our education, as examples of the grace and work of Christ in believers, and of the diversity of vocation. They also challenge our limited horizons:
to those inclined to say “This is me, this is all I am ever going to be, and all I want from religion is a bit of comfort” they offer a resounding “NO” This may be where you now start, but by God’s grace you will grow into His purposes, as they did.

Mary Magdalene was “rubbish”: a woman, and one possessed by demons until Jesus freed her (Luke 8:2)! Yet she is remarkably honoured:

  •  she is mentioned as one of the group of women who followed Jesus. Indeed, it may be significant that she is usually mentioned first.
  • she is granted the first appearance of the Resurrected Jesus (John 20), and is the “apostle to the apostles”{a medieval term from several theologians}, sent to tell them the good news
  • she has a clear place in the gospel story – not bad for a nobody (and good reason for us to revise our ideas of who “matters”!)

But be careful not to get her story wrong. Dan Brown in the da Vinci Code took ideas from the Gnostics, (and their late and untrustworthy writings, the “Gospels” of Thomas and of Mary) that she was Jesus’ lover or wife, mother of his child/children, teacher of the apostles. Wishful thinking? Inability to believe that a close relationship could not be pure? Ben Witherington notes there is NO early historical evidence that Mary’s relationship with Jesus was anything other than disciple to Master/teacher.

But let’s go back to what we know with confidence, and ask “Why, or in what way, is her life an example for us?”

  • Firstly, she accepts what God does for her. Healing, change, becoming part of a new group (and no doubt adapting to it).
  • Secondly, she re-makes her life around God’s purposes. We can only speculate about her life before: did she have family (or had they given up?) Certainly she recognises the source of her healing, and she follows. A very important part of Christian life is finding where God wants to put us, and being content to work at fitting there.
  • Thirdly and very importantly, she invites us to look again at the way Jesus relates to people. He has funny ideas about who is important. He avoids making people dependant, yet is of first importance – to beggar, scholar, and fisherman.

Saints are useful to make us think of what God does, and wants to do, with his people. We need to be careful not to read into their stories what we want to find, but there is plenty here to instruct and challenge us.

Harvest (Harvest c)

Harvest Thanksgiving!?  Deuteronomy 26:1-11 might seem strange: the farmer is to take some of the first of his produce, and publicly acknowledge it as God’s gift. Then he is to celebrate, sharing with others, including resident aliens. You might find that interesting, even quaint, but a little remote. We don’t farm, and too often we don’t give thanks, or recognise the gifts and goodness of God either.

Giving thanks is important. You don’t give thanks for what is your due, your earnings – though you might say thank you to someone who makes the effort to calculate and hand over your wages. And too often we imagine that what we have is our due, earned by hard work. Think a little harder. Yes, you may well have worked and saved. Where did the energy come from, the intelligence that made it possible, the life without which nothing would have happened? Natural processes – yes, certainly they are the means, but unless you believe it all to be chance without reason or purpose, then God’s providence is responsible.

For Christians, life is a gift, as is health, energy, intelligence. Work, though it can be mindless and dehumanising, should not be so and is what we are meant for. So we recognise that God is the giver of so many good things, and we give thanks. Sometimes thanksgiving is reduced to good manners, something to teach children – and reject as adults. That’s a mistake. Giving thanks is a reminder of gift. It establishes a relationship.

Thank you God, for food and shelter, often taken for granted or forgotten. Thank you for the goodness and generosity with which you give – not confining us to grey barrack block housing and endless tasteless porridge to keep us alive. Now – what was it you intended me to do with the life, energy, and intelligence you gave? How can I react to the danger in which we have placed the very environment of the whole earth? We could talk about the ecological crisis, and how we respond. We could talk about vocation – the “calling” of each Christian to find how their gifts and personality are meant to be used with others for the good of all. . .

You might think that I am building too much on an Old Testament harvest liturgy, but I would point you to Jesus words (John 6:25-35) as he debates with those who came to the feeding of the 5,000, and want more free lunches. What do they have to do? To trust the one God sent – Jesus.  Not to keep rules, but to learn from the bread of life, and live in relationship to him and in the way he lives in relationship – to God, creation, and other people.
Thanksgiving for harvest is old, and still important. Giving thanks reminds us of gifts received, and opens a relationship. We have to resist delusions of self-sufficiency, and learn proper dependance on God. Oh yes, and we have to celebrate, sharing with all sorts of people!