What happened to Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene: Witness to the Passion and Resurrection

She is the witness: Maria Magdalena. Her name is inseparable from Christianity. What happened before Jesus' death and what happened after - Mary Magdalene testifies to it. She is the witness. That was not accepted in a male-dominated church. She was, so to speak, discredited from the highest authority - by the Pope - although she stood out in early Christianity: she was considered the apostle of the apostles. But it cannot be seen on any picture of the Lord's Supper. There are only men sitting at the table with Jesus.

According to the Legenda aurea, the most famous collection of saints legends in the late Middle Ages, a ship without a sail was driven to the southern French coast. On board were refugees, several women and a man, expelled from Galilee. They were Mary Magdalene, as well as Mary of Cleophas, Martha of Bethany and her brother Lazarus. Even today, the fishing village of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer near Marseille reminds of women with its name.

Mary Magdalene, also known as Mary of Magdala, is one of the most controversial and at the same time most important figures in church history. She is always mentioned first when women's names are mentioned in the Gospels. This suggests: Mary Magdalene is the most important of the women who moved about with Jesus and the disciples. Presumably unmarried, she followed the man who freed her from demons. However, only Luke reports it in his Gospel, in which women only play a subordinate role in discipleship. Succession is a man's business for Lukas. It seems all the more remarkable that he nevertheless mentions her - against his own tendency - as the follower of Jesus. Mary Magdalene is already venerated in early Christianity as "Apostola apostolorum", as the apostle of the apostles, she is in the first place, so to speak. And in apocryphal texts of the young church - these are texts that for various reasons were not included in the biblical canon - she is even considered to be the favorite disciple of Jesus. She received special revelations from him and was attacked by Peter, the most important person in the group of men.

Since the fourth century, Mary Magdalene has been pushed back more and more. Their figure is - basically completely arbitrarily - equated with nameless women named in the Gospels. In the 6th century, Pope Gregory I categorically stated: Mary Magdalene, that is the anonymous sinner who washed Jesus' feet with fragrant oil. Through this papal interpretation, Mary Magdalene finally loses her prominent position, she becomes a sinner, yes, a prostitute. A stamp that Maria Magdalena will bear for a good 1400 years. Biblical scholars have repeatedly pointed out in the last century how much the person of Mary Magdalene was distorted by incorrect references from the Bible, but the traditions have lasted for a long time. To this day, some circles in the Church place the apostles' apostles in a bad light.

It was only three years ago that Pope Francis officially put them on an equal footing with the apostles and upgraded their feast day, July 22nd, to a feast day. According to the theologian Dorothee Sandherr-Klemp, this decision is tantamount to a church earthquake. But that, she wonders, largely failed to materialize. The reception of this important step hardly took place. Difficult to understand because, according to the theologian:

“A woman has the same liturgical rank as the apostles. This is an earthquake! But it is also deeply biblical: Mary Magdalene is the First Witness, she is the First Herald. She belonged to the closest circle of disciples around Jesus. "(Domradio, July 22nd, 2017)

And: Mary Magdalene is one of the women who go about with Jesus and also do not run away when he is condemned and carries his cross through Jerusalem. In the passion story, the circle of disciples or the apostles of Jesus play no role. When Jesus is arrested, the twelve flee. Then there is only talk of Peter and another disciple. But Peter of all people, the first among the apostles, renounces Jesus, he denies knowing him. Peter is afraid for his life and flees. The women are completely different: they do not flee. The Gospels specifically mention Mary Magdalene. She is one of those people who endure under the cross when Jesus wrestles with death. This is what it says in the Gospel of Mark, the oldest gospel of all:

“Some women also watched from a distance, including Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of James the Little and Jose, and Salome. ... There were many other women who went up to Jerusalem with him (Jesus). ”(Mk 15:40) 

Perseverance in suffering is obviously a woman's business. The apostles have run away. Only the Gospel of John speaks of a man:

“At the cross of Jesus stood his mother and his mother's sister, Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and with her the disciple whom he loved, he said to his mother, "Woman, see your son!" Then he said to the disciple: See, your mother! ... "(Joh 19,25f)

It is women, Marys, who endure under the cross in a cruel world dominated by men. In the first place the mother of Jesus, according to the evangelist John. But it is missing in the oldest gospel, that of Mark. Mary Magdalene is mentioned before all other women - as an eyewitness to the suffering and death of Jesus. She experiences his loneliness on the cross, his death. She stays on site and is also present at the funeral. Because it is preparation day, the day before the Sabbath, the corpse can no longer be embalmed, as is customary. And so it only says with Matthew:

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there; they sat opposite the tomb. "(Mt 27.61; cf. Mk 15.47)

The women follow everything. You can feel that our mission is not over. You know the grave in which the body was laid. Without this knowledge, there would be no tale of the empty tomb. The story would be over if the women hadn't persevered. Nothing is told about the apostles at the burial. We are only talking about Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the high council.

The women buy fragrant oils the day after the Sabbath to go to the tomb and anoint Jesus. As soon as the sun rises, they set off. They want to catch up on what was missed at the funeral. While the men are afraid and probably feel completely helpless, the women are very practical. On the way, however, they have doubts: Who should roll the stone away from the grave for us?

The expectations of the three women who come to the grave in the morning are thwarted. Nothing is what you imagined.

“And they looked up and saw: the stone was overturned…. And as they went into the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right, dressed in a white robe, and they shuddered. But he said to them: Do not be shuddered! Jesus is looking for you ..., the crucified one - he was raised. He is not here. … But go, say to his disciples and Peter: He goes ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him ... And they went out, fled from the grave. They were still trembling and beside themselves. And they never spoke to anyone - with fear as they were. ”(Mk 16.4b - 8 in the translation by Fridolin Stier).

This is how the Gospel of Mark ends in its original form. The women who want to anoint the body are sent away from the tomb to bring the message to the friends of Jesus. But they are silent - at least at first. They are dominated by fear, trembling and horror. Because they have heard and seen something that does not fit into this world. The silence of women is not surprising in a world where men are in charge. Women in Judaism at the time of Jesus were unable to testify. Her word had no weight. But women of all people are at the beginning of the resurrection tradition. What the men think of their word, Luke makes more than clear in his Gospel: For the apostles, the women’s news of the empty grave is stupid chatter, they do not believe a word of the women. But at least Peter gets up and runs to the grave to check the words of the women ...

In the final part of the Gospel of Mark that we know today, it is Mary Magdalene who shows Himself first. (Mk 16,9) She, who was called the apostle of the apostles for this reason, reports it to the others who mourn and weep, but nobody listens to them. They only believe, as Mark tells it, when the risen One himself appears to all the disciples when they eat together.

The outstanding position of Mary Magdalene is confirmed in the Gospel of John. Here it says: Mary of Magdala goes to the grave early in the morning and sees that the stone has been removed from the grave. Without looking in, she turns around and runs to Simon Peter and the other disciple whom her Lord loved. And she says to them: “They took the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they put him.” (Jn 20: 2) The two men get up, run to the tomb, and thus become witnesses. Although Peter enters the burial chamber first, sees the linen towels and the handkerchief, he does not believe. In this scene the other disciple becomes the first Easter witness because he sees and believes. Even so, the men don't stay at the grave, they go back home.

Mary of Magdala is quite different. She stays. If you believe the Gospel of John, then - just like in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew - she is the first Easter witness, because you will meet the risen One.

In his book “Magdalena am Grab”, Patrick Roth processed this scene in a literary way and interpreted it freely. As in the Gospel, Mary goes into the grave, sees two angels sitting there addressing her: “Woman, what are you crying?” She is looking for Jesus. Because she cannot find him in the burial chamber, she turns around and sees a silhouette in the backlight from the entrance. The stranger says to her: Woman, what are you crying? Who are you looking for? ”She thinks the man is the gardener and says to him:“ When you have carried him away, tell me where you put him. Then I want to fetch him. ”And then she presumably hurries past the man in search of the corpse.

At least that's how Patrick Roth reads and processes this biblical scene. In his book “Magdalena at the grave” he assumes that the gospel keeps silent about passing by. The risen Christ and Mary Magdalene must have stood facing away from each other because Mary Magdalene was looking for the body. She only has eyes for it. “God and man”, wrote Roth, “no longer see each other…. But now: now something is turning. Because the passing of the Magdalena makes Jesus turn around. He turns to look at her. He must have turned when he said her name: “Maria! (Magdalena at the grave, 47f)

Now the gospel starts again because Maria turns. She recognizes her master and speaks to him: “Rabbuni!”. In this second, the Magdalenian second, she is recognized and recognizes itself. For Patrick Roth, the Magdalenian second is the moment in which man and God consciously turn to one another. Mary Magdalene is seen and sees. God sees her and lets her see him. From a woman who seeks with a loving heart.

But the Bible says again and again "Nobody has seen God". John also knows this when he emphasizes at the beginning of his Gospel: “No one has ever seen God” (Jn 1:18). In the book of Exodus of the Old Testament, it says in a word of God: "You cannot see my face, for no one can see me and stay alive." (Ex 33:20) God cannot be seen.

What does that mean for the scene in John's Gospel? Who does Mary Magdalene actually see? Does she recognize the crucified one in the garden? The theologian and philosopher Eckhard Nordhofen writes: Maria Magdalena “recognizes him again, but in the Magdalenensecunde she also recognizes who he really is, Rabbuni, the risen Lord of the worlds, the Son of God, God himself.” (Http: // www .text-und-zeit.de / lit / proth002.html) In a flash, Mary Magdalene recognizes: Jesus is God! And that's why she turns away. It has to do it, because: “Nobody has ever seen God.” Easter morning does not change that either.

The Magdalenian second, however it is always interpreted, is decisive: it denotes the encounter between God and man. And this second is named after a woman, after the apostle of the apostles: Maria Magdalena, who is venerated as an apostle-like in the Eastern Church to this day.

In the Roman Church, Mary Magdalene, arguably the most important woman in the circle of women and men around Jesus and the witness of the Easter events, was for centuries a repentant and penitent sinner. Even if Pope Francis has now rehabilitated her, it will still take time for the still male-dominated church to arrive: Mary Magdalene is the witness.

Dr. Silvia Becker