Note: This series is based on the 1970 rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice.
This Sunday, we explore one of the New Testament’s most enigmatic characters. Mary Magdalene can be found throughout the Gospels and is arguably the most important woman in Jesus’ earthly life – aside from his mother. She is considered a saint in the Catholic tradition, and was among the first to discover Jesus’ resurrection in the Gospels. But she is also commonly confused (improperly, thanks to Pope Gregory the Great) with a prostitute.
Webber’s musical leans into this misunderstanding as well, with Mary singing, “I’ve had so many men before…” But if we can see beyond the surface understanding of the lyrics, her song of love illustrates a growing understanding of who Jesus is and what loving him might actually mean.
Luke 8:1-3 (CEB)
1After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, 2and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
Consider these questions:
- Who have you understood Mary Magdalene to be? Have you thought of her as a prostitute? If so, where did you hear this?
- Most mainline religious leaders now dispute this disparaging description of Mary. What does this correction change?
- The text above puts Mary together with a number of women who can all be understood as women of means. Understanding the cultural context of women in first-century-Jerusalem, what could this description mean?
Post-Worship Update on 4/4
Audio from the sermon can be heard below, and video can be found at this link (will open in a new tab).
Sunday’s exploration of Mary Magdalene pushed against the common misconception of why she was in the life of Jesus and the other disciples. This kind of critique of commonly-held misconception can be difficult. Even so, perhaps we may consider the importance of faithful critique.
I would also suggest that this faithful critique is important in every aspect of our faith. When we read our favorite Bible passages, are we willing to do so with a critical mind? I understand that it may be difficult to think about reading the Bible critically. But perhaps we can reframe that idea in this way: read the Bible being critical about the very way that you read, challenging assumptions and what you’ve been told, so that you can be open to the Spirit’s guidance for how this sacred collection of texts can continue to have meaning and power for you today.
Consider these questions:
- How does it feel to contradict a religious leader (Pope Gregory the First) in the reading of Mary Magdalene?
- What does it mean to you to be critical about your faith and how you approach your faith?
- What sources or people do you trust to help guide you in thoughtful and faithful critique?
- What do you think that engaging in this kind of critique could mean for your faith life?