Tag Archives: honour

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.

Invitation needs answering!

From time to time, people say the New Testament is useless to us because it is totally out of our culture. A half truth, which ignores the fact that human needs, and sin, don’t vary a great deal from age to age. Take today’s parable. [Matthew 22:1-14]  Unique to Matthew in this form (Luke 14 makes a different point in a story also about refused invitations), it does need some untangling and thought.

The first 7 verses tell of an invitation to a feast – refused, with the servant messengers ignored or ill-treated. This is clearly a reference to God’s invitation in Jesus (the marriage is of a Son). The destroying of the city may be a reference to the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD.

Verses 8 to 14 seem rather different – the feast is full, but someone without a wedding garment is thrown out. This could be a problem – how is someone off the street expected to get one? Some suggest they were given out by host. Thus the refusal to wear it becomes a deliberate insult. (Documented at Mari, Mesopotamia). Others say clean clothes were expected, as a compliment, and a third group point out that clothes in scripture often symbolise character.

The detail is obscure, but the point is clear: the invitation is free – your great good luck is to get one you might never have expected. But you do have to do something; first of all, go! Even when you get in and are enjoying yourself, respect the host.

Is there anything here for us? I don’t think we’d have much difficulty understanding how unwelcome is a wedding guest who gets drunk while telling stories against bride and groom; or who arrives in dirty overalls smelling to high heaven!  Part of this story is about the consequences of our actions. In terms of our faith, how do our actions affect our relationship to God, and to other people? You can’t earn a place in heaven, but you can lose it by failing to take the invitation, and following-up appropriately.

Or you could say that those who depend on His hospitality need to remember to honour God. If you hope for heaven, then start behaving like it! Not sometime when you get round to it, or if you feel like it. More and more our twenty first century culture wants to tell God how to run the universe. We believe in heaven, not in hell. We believe in being forgiven, but not in forgiving. We believe that someone else ought to deal with young people, the financial crisis, illness and death – so that we are free to do what we want.

And God says, “Once there was a king who prepared a wedding feast . .” Listen to the story. Think it through and take is seriously.

  • There’s good news – a free invitation.
  • There’s reality – you need to do something about it, and in time.
  • There’s a warning – what you do will have consequences.