Conflict or Compliment: Mary Magdalene and Peter, Disciples and Apostles

Conflict or Compliment:
Mary Magdalene and Peter, Disciples and Apostles
By Lola Wells

Matt 27:55-61; 28:1-3; 4:10
Mark 16:1-8
Luke 8:1-3; 10:2

Matthew 27:55-61; 28:1

Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. Among them was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

When it was evening, there was a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

Matthew 28:1-3; 4:10

After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.
But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ' He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.' This is my message for you." So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came to him and took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. The Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, there they will see me."

Mark 16:1-8

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they come to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, "Who will roll away  the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?"
When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is place they laid him. But go and tell  his disciples and Peter that  he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.'"

Luke 8:1-3

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities. Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Johanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susana and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

Luke 10:2

Now it was Mary Magdalene,  Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women who told this to the disciples.

None of the disciples/apostles stand alone in the Gospels. That is not why they are there. The Gospels are not announcing the good news of Peter or Mary Magdalene as some points of view seem to be arguing. We support Peter, or we support the Magdalene. Nonsense, the Gospels are announcing the good news of Jesus who is the singular revelation of the Divine Self. In Jesus we find revealed a God whose love for us is absolutely beyond our ability to destroy. Jesus encounters all sorts of sinners in the Gospel narratives. Some believe and follow; others do not. It is, however, the disciples/apostles who have more opportunities to miss the mark and find in Jesus' loving forgiveness the forgiveness of ABBA. This is true simply because some of them have more appearances on stage than do others. It seems that the more time one appears in the narratives the grater the chance of demonstrating that one just doesn't have it all together yet.   Two of these individuals are Peter and Mary Magdalene.

If we want to understand the disciples who traveled with Jesus during his lifetime we really must let go of some of our well-learned assumptions about them. Jesus did not come to found a church. Jesus was not a Christian, nor were any of his disciples. They were all Jews. They believed in the one God whom they called YHWH. They went to synagogue and read the Torah. It is many years after this cast of characters has exited earth's stage before any thoughts of a worshiping community totally separating them from the Jewish Community develops.

Many of us were taught that Peter was the first Pope, the head of the Roman Church.  Historically we know this isn't true, but when we read the good news of the kingdom, this image crowds out what may be the more necessary and beautiful model Peter is for the kingdom. If anyone has difficulty understanding what this kingdom is all about or difficulty being faithful to Jesus, Peter is the guy to watch in the gospels. Sure he is the first one to proclaim Jesus as Messiah (LK 9:20b), but he is immediately instructed not to talk about this great insight because he doesn't really understand what being messiah is all about, nor does he understand what being a disciple is all about.  In the Garden Jesus admonishes Peter to pray; Peter falls asleep. And then there is the great betrayal when Peter cries out three separate times "I never knew the man."

It is easy to run past this denial scene saying, 'oh yes, I would have done that, too,' but what would it have felt like for the both of them? Remember here that we are dealing with human beings. Peter appears to be Jesus' closest male friend. Over and over that feeling slips into the gospel. He admonished Peter to pray with him in the garden, but Peter falls asleep. We have all given him the excuses we have used for not staying awake to pray, but the point here is that Peter let down his friend. Then Peter goes on to deny ever-knowing Jesus. We can deify Jesus and say he knew what was going to happen, and it didn't hurt, but Jesus isn't divine in the Garden, and the hurt would have been profound. Imagine your best friend saying to all you will listen that he/she does not know you, has never known you and damn you all for associating your name with his/hers.  This is what Peter did, and then Jesus was dead.

Poor Peter, he is always branded a chauvinist because he pushed Mary Magdalene and the other women aside in disbelief and runs to the tomb to see if what they said is true.  This part of the narrative has a lot of human truth in it. Is it possible that Peter's reaction to what they say is not directly related to them? Is it possible that what they have said to him has brought him such great hope that he cannot contain his physical self? Indeed, Peter can do nothing but run ahead and see for him self that the story is not ended, there is for him the possibility of forgiveness.

Mary Magdalene is a more of a mystery creature in the gospel narratives. We know that she is one of the women who traveled with Jesus as he went through the villages and cities proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom. According to Luke these women had been sinners whom Jesus had healed and were now his followers. They had their own "resources" and contributed financially to the community. Mary Magdalene is not the only woman who follows Jesus, nor is her name the only one remembered, nor is she the only one sent to tell the apostles the good news.  She is the one, however, who seems to touch the hearts of so many.

For the purpose of this brief meditation the disciples/apostles are the ones who point beyond themselves to Jesus who is the Singular revelation of the Divine Self and of divine love and forgiveness. Mary Magdalene's faithfulness to Jesus during the crucifixion stands as a bright light of fidelity. She was profoundly saddened by the horrible death of her lord and friend. The crowds and the soldiers frightened her. She stood firm. It is not clear if she had hope in the Resurrection, or if she had any understanding of the Resurrection as it was about to be played out. What she did was come back when Jewish Law permitted to anoint the body. It is clear that she expected a body to be in the tomb and that she and her friends would anoint the body. Anyone would have been stunned by the very presence of the angel. The amazement would have intensified when the angel addressed them.  The Gospel writers are intent on the women being afraid; after all they cannot have less fear than the men. The women's response to the GOOD NEWS is not clear. We do know that they got the message clear: go and tell the others that Jesus is on the Way to Galilee!

Mary had to be wonderfully human.  She didn't seem to doubt the news. We can't be sure what she really believed, but she believed Jesus, and Jesus had told her to do this, and she was doing it! If you haven't figured it out before, this is pretty convincing evidence that Mary is a woman who does not go by the book. She could be absolutely spontaneous in her faith response to Jesus. Jesus seemed to value the humanness of those who followed him. If he liked Peter in all his humanness then I don't think Mary joined the community because of her money and cooking skills and constant prayers.  Perhaps she stayed with Jesus because she found in him someone who really did love and accept her with all her faults and didn't mind all that much when she messed up again. I think this is what she figured out and Peter didn't.

For centuries Mary Magdalene was confused with the woman caught in adultery. Sometimes she has been identified with the woman who washed Jesus' feet with her hair.  Biblical and historical scholarship is establishing the veracity of these identifications. One wonders, though, if these identifications did not serve a purpose for many women over the centuries. The Magdalene is the forgiven sinner. Jesus challenged her accusers in public and saved her life.  Magdalene is the subject of the beautiful story of the woman whose tears are the water and her hair is the towel used to wash Jesus' feet. The Magdalene represents the millions of women who had/have no rights. These women find in Jesus their Liberator. Jesus is the one who always treats them with kindness, forgiveness and love; Jesus relates to them as he did to Mary Magdalene.

Are these two remarkable disciples and apostles in conflict with one another, or do they compliment one another? There is no one path of discipleship. There is no one plan for apostleship. The original holders of these positions are as different as the readers of this meditation. If we approach something differently on our journey it does not mean that one is right, the other wrong. We have simply chosen what expresses who we are on our journey with Jesus.  No one ever gets it right all the time. As these two apostles demonstrate getting it right is not the objective; living in relationship with Jesus is what it is all about. Peter teaches us about the power of YHWH/Jesus' love and forgiveness. Before, during and after the Crucifixion we have a glimpse into the heart of Mary Magdalene, and we see there something of who we want to be.