Saturday, May 21, 2011
Do we remember Mary Magdalene as Jesus instructed us to?
One story in which Mary Magdalene anointed Jesus just before his Passion appears in three gospels: MT 26, MK 14 and John 12. Mary anointed Jesus’ head and/or feet depending upon the gospel version of the event. Two gospels describe Mary as anointing his head. Those same two renditions indicate Jesus told his disciples this regarding Mary, “Amen, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be spoken of, in memory of her (MK 14:9, MT 26:13)."
What exactly did Mary Magdalene do that we should remember her wherever the gospel is proclaimed? Since most people likely are unaware of this scriptural instruction, do we speak of her actions in memory of her at all much less “wherever” we proclaim the gospel?
Understanding what she did requires understanding what it meant to anoint someone in biblical times. An anointing was significant due to what it symbolized and that significance was so great it justified even impoverished people using very expensive perfumes and oils for the occasion.
People anointed the dead for burial. They also anointed leaders’ heads to indicate that God chose them to lead. Both the word “messiah” and “Christ” mean “anointed one”. Thus, “Jesus Christ” means “Jesus the anointed one”. Only women anointed Jesus and only Mary Magdalene anointed his head, a messianic anointing. This is very significant.
Who usually anointed people in biblical times? Another man did. Since women had lower social status, leaders were usually men and women touching men to anoint them as leaders violated religious and social norms. Anointers themselves also were considered important messengers of God such as Samuel who anointed Israel’s first kings. This further reinforced the cultural practice of males anointing male leaders.
A female anointing Jesus must have shocked people because of the marked deviation from norms. Since Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ head was a messianic anointing, this too would have stunned people who otherwise assumed a man would anoint the Messiah. Thus, Mary was a female messenger of God, breaking cultural and religious norms to visibly anoint Jesus so people could see God chose him to lead. Is this how Mary Magdalene is remembered at all much less “wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world?”
Since the church finds Jesus’ interactions with particular genders especially significant and worthy of eternal perpetuation, why did this significant gender-specific interaction escape them? Why isn’t it preserved and perpetuated? Why isn’t it retold in memory of Mary? Jesus never speaks of perpetually remembering his mother Mary’s actions. Why does the church fixate on remembering her actions while almost ignoring the Mary Jesus said to always remember?
Should the Creed include Mary Magdalene’s anointing of Jesus so that wherever we proclaim the gospel we remember her act anointing him as Messiah? Should women be anointers in the church?