Friday, April 3, 2015
MARY OF MAGDALA
Torah Table End, Migdal, Israel
Magdala Synagogue, Migdal, Israel
Valley of the Doves, Migdal, Israel
Torah Table Top, Migdal, Israel
Mary Magdalene was among the few who had stood by Jesus at his crucifixion and watched in horror as her Lord was killed on that infamous Black Friday. She had entered the garden tomb before daylight to anoint the body on this first Easter Sunday and found the tomb empty. She stood in the garden crying because she thought the Romans had taken the body away. And as she turned, Jesus appeared and asked her why she was crying and who she was looking for in the garden. Mary mistook the resurrected body of Jesus for a gardener until he called her name, “Mary”. And she cried out in Aramaic “Rabboni!” which means teacher. He instructed her to go and tell the disciples that he was alive which left her with the Augustine legacy of the “Apostle to the Apostles”. Women had no status in this first century culture, but Jesus acknowledged women as equal reflectors of God’s image. Given this male dominated society, revealing himself first to a woman provides even more credibility for the resurrection. A purely fabricated account would have quite probably written a male into the role.
Mary was from a small fishing village on the northwest coast of the Sea of Galilee called Magdala. Magdala was destroyed by the Romans about the time the second temple was also leveled in 70 AD. She was also referred to as the Magdalene in the Bible. Jesus had cast out seven demons from Mary, but that may be a reference to a complex mental or physical illness instead of any form of sinfulness. The male culture of those days who were uncomfortable with a female apostle may have intentionally merged Mary with the unnamed woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. Mary was not a repentant prostitute and these efforts to demonize her in particular and disempower women in general though the centuries are unfounded. She is now considered a saint by the Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran churches with a feast day of July 22.
Father Juan Solana, a Roman Catholic priest, had a dream. He envisioned building a serene spiritual retreat for Christian pilgrims on the northwest shores of the Sea of Galilee. This Galilee region in Israel was the primary location on earth where the Son of God lived out his human existence while teaching and preaching about the Kingdom of God for mankind and healing the sick and disabled outcasts of society. A routine archaeological requirement in Israel with its centuries of history is to carry out a salvage dig on any potential building site prior to excavation. This work began in 2009 and almost immediately Father Salona described the miraculous discovery of a stone slab as providential. The subsequent discovery of a local coin dating from the year 29 confirmed the existence of a first century Galilee synagogue. And further excavation revealed a marketplace, water pools to cure the famous Galilee fish, and a large public building. It soon became clear that they had just discovered the ancient little fishing village of Magdala.
An ornately engraved stone that was found in the synagogue ruins was quite probably used as a table for reading the Torah. The time period places the synagogue right in the sweet spot of Jesus’ ministry and he quite probably read from the Torah on that table in this place. The Valley of the Doves contains a 22 mile trail from Nazareth to Magdala on the Sea of Galilee. The base for Jesus and his disciples was in Capernaum, just five miles away and their footsteps were all over this country. Our tour group not only traced their footsteps in the Valley of the Doves, but now we were also walking in and around the small village of Magdala where they visited and the Magdalene resided.
Mary of Magdala was present at the beginning of a movement that transformed the world. She was quite possibly more of a disciple than the disciples, but the culture of her time wouldn’t acknowledge her. As we move on into the twenty first century, God has revealed the birthplace of one of the most influential women in Christianity with the opportunity to also discover the woman who lived there. And now we all have the privilege of walking in the footsteps of the Apostle to the Apostles from Magdala and recognizing her rightful role as an early Christian leader and the first to announce the good news of the miracle of the resurrection!
The Hope of Easter, 2015