Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Feast of St. Mary Magdalene: A Devotional Commentary

Proverbs 31:10-31 Who can find a worthy woman? For her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband trusts in her. He shall have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. She seeks wool and flax, and works eagerly with her hands. She is like the merchant ships. She brings her bread from afar. She rises also while it is yet night, gives food to her household, and portions for her servant girls. She considers a field, and buys it. With the fruit of her hands, she plants a vineyard. She arms her waist with strength, and makes her arms strong. She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp doesn’t go out by night. She lays her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. She opens her arms to the poor; yes, she extends her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of the snow for her household; for all her household are clothed with scarlet. She makes for herself carpets of tapestry. Her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is respected in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them, and delivers sashes to the merchant. Strength and dignity are her clothing. She laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom. Faithful instruction is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household, and doesn’t eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed. Her husband also praises her: “Many women do noble things, but you excel them all.” Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain; but a woman who fears Yahweh, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands! Let her works praise her in the gates!

Luke 7:36-50 One of the Pharisees invited him to eat with him. He entered into the Pharisee’s house, and sat at the table. Behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that he was reclining in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of ointment. Standing behind at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and she wiped them with the hair of her head, kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “This man, if he were a prophet, would have perceived who and what kind of woman this is who touches him, that she is a sinner.” Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” He said, “Teacher, say on.” “A certain lender had two debtors. The one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they couldn’t pay, he forgave them both. Which of them therefore will love him most?” Simon answered, “He, I suppose, to whom he forgave the most.” He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” Turning to the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered into your house, and you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave me no kiss, but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss my feet. You didn’t anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Those who sat at the table with him began to say to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

Some church traditions teach that the "sinner" in the Gospel passage is Mary Magdalene while others deny it. We know from the Gospel of Luke that Mary Magdalene had seven demons cast out of her and that she faithfully supported the ministry of Jesus. In all four Gospels she is also the first witness to the resurrection. Mary Magdalene was the proverbial "worthy woman" in an unusual way. She was not married to Jesus despite the ridiculous claims of modern authors who have no clue as to how to do historical research. But she did manage to make enough money to support Jesus out of her own means. Perhaps this money came from being a high class prostitute or perhaps she was just wealthy. It doesn't really matter. Her demonic possession would have caused her to engage in spiritual whoredom just like you engage in spiritual whoredom every time that you sin. Mary Magdalene supported the ministry of Jesus out of thankfulness for delivering her from demonic possession. Jesus delivers each one of us from the power of the devil through the waters of holy baptism.

In the Gospel lesson the sinner woman who was a lady of the city and most likely a prostitute is the only one present who has any real idea of who Jesus is. Simon, a religious expert, invited Jesus into his house. Perhaps he invited Jesus in order to try to trap him in some argument about the law or maybe he had some real interest in what this rabbi was teaching. He did not regard Jesus as a superior to himself but as either an equal or inferior. He believed in a God who gave people what they deserved and regarded his sins as being few--few enough to earn him a good seat in the kingdom. But the woman knew herself to well to think such things about herself. The whore knew she was a sinner and proceeds to act as a servant of the only one who can take away her sins. How beautiful are the feet of the One who brings the Gospel! And so she washes His feet with oil. She loves Jesus because He brings her the good news that her many sins are forgiven. She believes the message of Christ. Simon is angry that someone who claims to come in the name of God would receive thanksgiving from a sinner.

We are all both like Simon and the sinner. We have committed all kinds of spiritual whoredom but look down on others who we think are worse. But we have been forgiven by Christ. Christ says to you, "Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace."

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