After considering Judas’ lasting reputation, we now turn to another of Jesus’ followers whose story has been embellished and fabricated long after they lived: Mary Magdalene.
Please read Luke 8:1-3
Coming from the fishing village of Magdala Tarichaea on the western shore of Lake Galilee, for centuries after her death she has been called a prostitute, depicted in art as semi-naked and as an isolated hermit repenting her sins in the wilderness – and even portrayed as Jesus’ wife.
This alternative story began 591, when Pope Gregory the Great declared in a sermon that Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany and the sinful woman described in Luke 7:36-50 were the same person. It was not until 1969, nearly 1400 years later, that the Roman Catholic Church decided Mary Magdalene was not, in fact, Luke’s penitent sinner. Further to that, in 2016, Pope Francis declared a major feast day for her (22 June) effectively placing her on a par with the male apostles. But even so, the reputation still lingers.
The second most mentioned woman in the Bible (the most being Mary, the mother of Jesus) and unlike any of the other women, she is not described in relation to someone else. She is not someone’s wife, mother or sister. She is Mary. Mary from Magdala. She has her own identity. She knows who she is. And she knows God knows who she is. And, as we will see, God calls her by name.
As with Mary Magdalene, history has a long record of other people making up all sorts of things or attributing words or actions incorrectly. The manipulation of information has existed since time immemorial. Even the Gospel writers wrote and edited the accounts and stories they heard from their sources to suit their own interpretation and the audience they wished to reach (e.g. Matthew wrote primarily to a Jewish readership; Luke for Gentiles). Governments throughout the centuries have conveyed the ‘facts’ in ways to support their manifesto and policy promises. The political ‘spin doctors’ of recent decades play a prominent role and, more recently, the rapid rise to prominence of ‘fake news’ has provided an alternative and even less palatable version of misrepresentation. From its origins in social media (presenting false stories as if they we true) the term ‘fake news’ soon found its way in to the language as a way of quickly dismissing criticism and other inconvenient truths. Society betraying itself perhaps.
On an individual level, probably all of us have felt misrepresented at times or that others have not understood our intentions and actions. “No, I didn’t mean it like that!” “What I meant to say was…” “Do you really think I would think that?” Times when the resulting hurt is immense. When lies that people tell become the perceived truth. When arguments tear everyone apart. When anger and bitterness becomes etched in the faces of the aggrieved. When no one believes we are the person we know ourselves to be.
History has presented us with a false image of Mary Magdalene and yet she has such a story to tell from her true self. Sometimes, we are not the ones responsible for the false image that is portrayed. Others may have made comments or spread rumours causing division and hurt, misunderstanding and pain. Colouring views, opinions and prejudices. Sometimes we can base our thoughts about others on such matters too.
Have your views of someone else been influenced by misunderstanding and rumour?
When you’re ready, move on to Part 2 of this story.