Image: Charles de La Fosse, Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene, detail [Public Domain]
The Christian band Jars of Clay wrote a song called “Love Song for a Savior.” In it, they sing with great emotion of a young woman yearning to be called by Jesus as she prays, “I want to fall in love with you.” This song is a reminder of how we should read Sacred Scripture: as God’s love song for us. How exhilarating it is to see that God loves us so much that he wants us to “fall in his arms” and fall in love with him!
In an effort to highlight women in Scripture who demonstrate virtue and femininity over wanton feminism, I could hardly think of an example better than Mary Magdalene (with the exception of the Blessed Virgin Mary). Mary Magdalene is not obscure or ignored in Protestant tradition; she is one of the better-known women in Scripture. The Catholic Church, however, sees Mary Magdalene as more than merely a character in the Greatest Story Ever Told. Her example plays a vital role in our salvation from sin through Jesus Christ. Mary Magdalene reveals to us the way to see Jesus’ mission as a great love story. She teaches us how to fall in love with Jesus.
The Penitent Woman
Mary Magdalene is recognized as a sinner in Scripture. Jesus drives out seven demons that have possessed her (Luke 8:2, Mark 16:9). Church tradition speculates that Mary Magdalene is synonymous with the sinful woman of Luke 7:36–50, the adulteress of John 8:1–11, the woman who anoints Jesus in Bethany (Matthew 26:6-–13), and Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus.
Whether all these women are Mary Magdalene or not, we can be sure that she mentors us in authentic contrition and repentance, and trust in the man she knows to be Lord: Jesus Christ. Her intercessions are worth seeking for that reason alone, but there is another aspect of Mary Magdalene that should move the heart of any person who looks more deeply at her: her great display of love for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The Devoted Woman
Even if Mary Magdalene is not the same Mary who lovingly sits at the feet of Jesus in her family’s home, she is undoubtedly the woman who remains at the feet of Jesus as he suffers unspeakable agony during his Passion and Crucifixion. She, like Mary the Mother of God and John the beloved Apostle, continues her steadfast devotion to Jesus Christ, loving him through support and testament, even when most have given up hope.
Consider the day of the Resurrection: two disciples are walking to Emmaus, lamenting the scenes they had witness only a couple days prior, when Jesus appears and asks them what they are discussing. They tell him, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21, emphasis added). Already, they have given up hope because events did not play out as they had expected. Mary Magdalene, on the other hand, does not run from the situation. She runs to Jesus. She does not understand what has happened or the promises Jesus made, but she has no doubt who he is. She goes to his tomb to continue the burial process through anointing (Mark 16:1). She does this all out of great love, without any expectation of what she, or Israel, might gain.
The Passionate Woman
We see Mary Magdalene’s strongest qualities at the Resurrection. Up to this point, she has shown herself to be penitent and obedient, a meek and devoted listener and follower—although not passive. As she nears Jesus’ tomb on Easter morning, her great fortitude shines. In the first place, the Pharisees have placed guards at the tomb for the purpose of keeping people out and ensnaring followers of Jesus (Matthew 27:62–66). But her Lord needs her, and she goes anyway. Next, when she discovers the tomb empty, she runs to tell the Apostles and maintains the truth, even when “these words seemed to them an idle tale” (Luke 24:11).
Finally, when Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, thinking he is a gardener she has the audacity to tell him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away” (John 20:15). No despair and no loss of hope; just profound dedication to Jesus Christ.
At the Resurrection appearance, we see Mary Magdalene as the bride in Song of Songs. “I will seek him whom my soul loves,” the bride genuinely proclaims in Songs 3:2, just as Mary Magdalene is seeking the Christ whom her soul loves. She is nurturing, expressing honest agape love for Jesus. Mary Magdalene’s love is deep and moving; not lustful, but passionate. She is passionate in her assertion, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18).
Love Song from the Savior
Mary Magdalene was a penitent, devoted, and passionate woman in Scripture. She teaches us what it means to truly, deeply, and unfailingly love our Lord Jesus Christ. Through her repentance, devotion, fortitude, and chaste zeal, we learn how we are a part of God’s story of love, his love song for us. Through her example, we know that “someday he’ll call us, and we will come running, and fall in his arms, and the tears will fall down, and we’ll pray ‘I want to fall in love with you!’” (Love Song for a Savior).