In the eleventh century Gregory the Great, a mediaeval pope, preached a sermon containing major mistakes which still persist today. He first of all declared that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, and then he managed to confuse four separate woman and rolled them all into one with Mary's name.
The first woman is obviously Mary herself. The gospels declare that she had seven devils cast out of her and was part of Jesus' entourage. There is no mention of prostitution, though she must have been a woman with serious mental and spoiritual problems. We do know that she was part of the band of disciples and funded Jesus from her own resources, indicating that she was well off. The next woman is the unnamed woman who was a sinner in Luke 7. She burst into a dinner party and began weeping over Jesus' feet, crying out her emotional problems. The gospels say that she had a bad name in the town, but had clearly taken to Jesus' teaching and repented. Jesus just let her cry it out and defended her against her critics. She is not to be identified with Mary Magdalene. Thirdly there is the woman taken in adultery in John 8, whom Jesus protedced from stoning. No name is given to this woman. She cannot be identified with Mary, as Jesus told her to go away and sin no more, while Mary was part of his entourage.
Finally there is the woman who poured ointment over Jesus' feet in anticipaton of his death. As this took place at Behtany, where Jesus was wont to stay, it is likely to be Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus. L:azarus was a high status Jew, as we can see from the fact that when he "died" Jews came to visit from Jerusalem. In John's Gospel the term Jew denoted members of the Judaean establishment, probably priests. Thus Mary was an upper class lady. She seems to have been a sensitive and spiritual kind of character, as she was keenly interested in Jesus' teaching and enjoyed a close relationship with him, as we see in John 11. She and her sister Martha seem to have been unwed, unusual for a woman of that time, so they may have been widows or temple virgins, set aside for singing in the temple. We cannot know.
However, Mary Magdalene was certainly close to Jesus. There are indications that she enjoyed physical affection, with him, but not that they were married. After the resurrection she made as if to cling to him, indicating that she was used to closeness, but Jesus indicated that he could no longer be known in this way. she was the first witness to the resurrection and because she informed the apostles of it, she is known as the apostle to the apostles.
Mary is significant, not because she married Jesus, a claim which is a mediaeval myth to legimitise the Merovingian dynasty in France, but because she was a woman apostle. All bishops claim to be successors to the apostles. The criterion for apostleship after Jesus. resurrection was having been a winess to the resurrection by meeting the risen Lord. Mary was the first witness, so she provides good ground for saying that Jesus did not choose only male apostles. Yes, in the early sense of apostle being one of the original twelve, he only chose males, but in the later sense he chose a female, so Mary is grounds for stating that the churches should have woman priest.
Mary fades from history after the gospels. She was part of the community that received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, but after that there is nothing. This is not puzzling. We do not know the names of most of the hundred and twenty early disciples of Jesus, and none of them sought fame or a place in history books. Mary would have lived out her life as part of the community, enjoying the companty of Jesus' disciples and revering the memory and living presence of the one who was so close to her, waiting for their reunion after death
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