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Staying the distance with Mary Magdalene

It’s good to be back from two week’s leave! Preferring not to take public transport I enjoyed listening to the radio along the way. One conversation I listened to was with former Prime Minister Julia Gillard reflecting on her recent book co-authored with Ngozi Okonjo-Iwaela. She commented that the many women she spoke with – from African leaders, to Jacinta Ardern and Hilary Clinton – all shared similar experiences of prejudice. All had to work against a stereotyping tthat lead to denigrating commentary and opposition. So, I wondered at our mid-week eucharist, how Julia Gillard’s experience might have been different if we in the Church had truly paid attention to the Gospel. As many of you might know we celebrated Mary Magdalene. I wonder what comes to your mind at the mention of Mary Magdalene: Penitent prostitute? Promiscuous whore? Sinful women? If any of these characters came to mind it is not because of the four Gospels – it’s because of our world of androcentric language and patriarchal ideology, even misogyny, present in the church and many societies including our own. But what if the church actually responded as Jesus did with Magdalene? Nowhere in the Gospels is Mary Magdalene associated either overtly or covertly with sexuality. Rather, Mary has two significant roles in the four Gospels. Mary is first and foremost, a disciple of Jesus. She was most likely a woman of means from Magdala, a Jewish village in Galilee. In Luke’s account Mary helped provide Jesus and the twelve with material support. She also experienced the healing of Jesus. She was one of numerous women and men from Galilee who believed in his message of love and justice and who followed Jesus in his ministry. Secondly, and arising from her relationship as a disciple, Mary Magdalene is perhaps the primary witness in the Gospels to the resurrection of Jesus. In our Eucharist we read John 20:1-18. We noted also in this and the other gospels how she, among all the disciples, is the one who remains present to Jesus. She does not flee when Jesus is arrested. She remains at the cross when he dies and then visits his tomb to find it empty, and sees the angels declaring his resurrection. But most significantly, in John’s Gospel, she alone comes to the tomb on Easter morning, she gets help from Peter and John. But again, these men leave. It is only Mary Magdalene who remains at the tomb and she then meets the risen Lord in the garden. Jesus then commissions her to proclaim the message of his resurrection. Mary is, therefore, the “apostle to the apostles.” That is, she plays a leadership role vis-à-vis the male disciples. We should therefore remember Mary Magdalene for her steadfast faithfulness, her willing presence to the dying Jesus, and her willingness to lead into resurrection. What difference might it have made to Julia Gillard and to politics more generally in the church and society if we had truly read this gospel of ours? Julia Gillard says to women in bold letters in her book, “Go for it!” Mary Magdalene (and Jesus) would agree. Fr Don

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