Friday, July 29, 2011

Healing Witness: July 2011 article for the Shelby Star

When we open ourselves to come to know God in the power of Jesus, everything we once knew from a human point of view about God, ourselves, and the world is changed; transformed by the love of Christ that fills us and urges us on as witnesses of his resurrection. An important example of this is found in the story of Mary Magdalene (whose feast day is July 20), a story about healing, transformation, and faithful witness.

Unfortunately, aside from the Biblical record that Jesus healed her of seven demons (none of which was named), we don’t know much about her. In the gospels, she is a minor character who is recorded as following Jesus and his disciples around and ministering to them. (1) She is recorded as being present at Jesus’ crucifixion and burial, and all four gospels tell us that she was the first witness of the resurrection sent by Jesus to tell the disciples the good news – which led early church writers to call her the apostle to the apostles.

It was St. Gregory the Great, at the end of the 6th century, who identified Mary Magdalene with the unnamed sinner in Luke who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, and the woman caught in adultery whose stoning Jesus forestalled. “From this conflation, now rejected by scholars as well as the church, there came about the popular representation of Mary Magdalene as a penitent sinner, [a] prostitute.” (2)

For nearly two millennia Mary Magdalene, the faithful follower of Jesus, the apostle to the apostle, has been dismissed as a minor character and slandered as a prostitute. Yet the healing Jesus began when he freed her from the grip of seven demons continues to this day, restoring Mary Magdalene’s reputation and her rightful place of honor in the Christian community.

That’s how healing works. We know from the many stories of Jesus’ healings in Scripture, that whenever Jesus heals, he heals more than a person’s body or mind. Jesus’ healings always restore a person to wholeness of life. The lepers who were cleansed, for example, were able to return to their families and live in the communities from which they had been exiled due to their disease. The blind beggar and the demoniac who were healed became evangelists who told of the mercy they had received from Jesus – and all who heard their stories were amazed.

That’s the other thing about healing – it is for us, but not just for us. When we have been restored in body, mind, or spirit, we come away with a new awareness of God’s powerful love and mercy, and that is what is meant to be shared.

When Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb and finds it empty, she cries. But in the most unexpected way, her tears are turned to joy as she hears her teacher and friend, call her by name. Suddenly there is nothing present but transforming love. We don’t know how long they stayed together in that moment, but we do know that at some point Jesus tells Mary not to cling to him, but to go and tell the others, that they might be transformed too.

Mary doesn’t stop to ask Jesus to explain how he did it – she doesn’t ask to understand at all. She simply responds to the love of Christ that fills her and urges her on, and she goes to tell the others, taking with her an unexpectedly new awareness of God’s reconciling love in Jesus. What she had once known from a human point of view, Jesus her Rabboni, has been transformed, and because of that everything has become new (2Cor 5:17).

When someone has been beaten down by the demons of fear, loneliness, or depression, when they have been oppressed by poverty, marginalization, or anger, when they have been forsaken by friends and family, it is as if they are living in exile – cut off from the reconciliation Jesus died and rose to give us all. And the longer someone lives in exile, the more their hope and sense of self-worth dwindle away. It is to these beloved, thirsting ones that God sends us as witnesses, because, as we hear in the book of Judith, God is the God of the lowly, the helper of the oppressed, protector of the forsaken, and the savior of those without hope.(Jud 9:11)

Witnessing means carrying the life-giving waters of Baptism out to those who are athirst for the living God (Ps 42:2). It means trusting God and God alone to judge them. It means inviting them into relationship just as they are and trusting God to take them and us where we need to go. Witnessing means proclaiming by all we say and do the Good News of God in Christ.

History did not treat Mary Magdalene well as a witness, and may not treat us well either - but that isn’t what matters. What matters is that Mary loved Jesus so deeply that she was open to receive his Holy Spirit and to be sent - healed, forgiven and renewed - to tell the Good News of his resurrection.

Our Savior continually calls us to wholeness of life, allowing him to turn our tears into joy by entering into the presence of his transforming love. Then having been healed by him, we are made ready to go and tell others, that they might be transformed too.

(1) James Keifer,
(2) Robert Ellsberg, All Saints, Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for our Time (The Crossroad Publishing Co., NY, 2002), 312.

1 comment:

Cleaner said...

God will always give you understanding Mary Magdalene was made very through this article.
Thank God for HIS Aspostle to the Aspostles.

Thank You Pastor Valorie